I’ve been having a tough time lately. Maybe it’s a delayed post-CVG crash. But it feels more like a natural downswing, which means the only way forward is to ride it out. It’s not BAD in the way they get sometimes, at least not yet. But the voice inside that tells me that I’m a waste of space and not worth the time or attention from anyone I respect or cherish is a whole lot louder and stronger than the voice that usually rises up in opposition.
It makes it hard to do anything this way. Even to reach out and ask for help. Because how can I possibly ask another for support or encouragement or kindness when I can’t believe I’m worth it? When such an expenditure on their part would be a waste, since they can’t possibly really mean it and I don’t deserve to take it from them?
And then help arrives, and sometimes it makes the voice even louder. “See. Look at that. They put themselves out for me, gave me energy they should have kept for themselves or someone that matters more. And I don’t feel better. So I was right. I am a waste of everyone’s time, because even their generosity doesn’t fix me.”
It’s all lies, of course. Depression lies.
But lies still hurt, still weaken what is already weak. It’s the “fake news” of mental health, but it can still have devastating consequences.
The more insidious lies are the ones about me and my worth, or lack thereof.
There is a part of me that may never believe, no matter how long I try, that anything I do is worthwhile, that it is enough, that it has intrinsic value. Because how can I believe in something of my own, when I can already see how much less it is than another’s? An example is with music. I can sing, sure. I can write lyrics. But I’ll never sing well enough to feel truly okay about it. I’ll never look at a song I wrote and feel that it is sufficient. And then I look at the songs sung by people in the choir, or songs written by Beth, and everything I do feels like crayon scribbles and hoarse shouting in comparison.
I know that there will always be someone better than me at literally everything possible. That’s how the world works. But there’s a difference between “I will never be the best” and “Mine is so much less that it has no worth” and that’s where I get stuck.
In a good frame of mind, I can hold onto this quote from Madeline L’Engle:
My husband is my most ruthless critic. … Sometimes he will say, “It’s been said better before.” Of course. It’s all been said better before. If I thought I had to say it better than anyone else, I’d never start. Better or worse is immaterial. The thing is that it has to be said; by me; ontologically. We each have to say it, to say it in our own way. Not of our own will, but as it comes through us. Good or bad, great or little: that isn’t what human creation is about. It is that we have to try; to put it down in pigment, or words, or musical notations, or we die.
In a good frame of mind, I can summon even a spark of defiance. “I may scream into the void, but it’s MY scream, dammit, and I WILL BE HEARD.”
In a good frame of mind, putting any of the truth of myself into the world is worthy enough, and quality matters only in the minds of others.
But I’m not in a good frame of mind today.
If there is a nice thing in this pit of awful, it’s in my self-awareness. I know, even if I can neither feel nor believe it now, that this will pass. No part of me can internalize it, but it’s true nonetheless. I don’t have to feel it or believe it to know that it’s true. This will pass, and I’ll again be able to take pride in what is mine, regardless of how good or not good it is. This will pass and I will be able to feel again that the act of living, of creating, of being myself is worthy in and of itself.
No matter how beaten down and worthless I feel, I know that nothing keeps me down forever.
Sometimes the brain chemicals go wonky. Sometimes the scale slips and the spectrum gets a little heavier on the depression side of bipolar. Sometimes the pain comes, the doubt, the self-hate, the defeat, the loathing, the sorrow.
Right now, that’s all I can feel.
But I know that it won’t beat me.
I can’t summon Defiance or Courage right now. I don’t feel the good things that the people who care for me would offer if I asked. Nothing penetrates the haze.
But today there is still one thing greater than that haze, one thing more powerful still. And to that I cling.
Defiance has gone dormant in me. Endurance is exhausted and doesn’t care to raise its head today. But there is a reason I started my pillars with Honor, and a reason it provides the framework.
I put this up on another entry just about a year ago. It’s a quote from Jane Eyre:
“I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth—so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane—quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot.”
In this case, it is the literal truth of where I am at.
I am in a downswing, and the world has lost meaning. I have no value. The outlook is bleak.
But I have given my word to many people, and to myself. I made promises to be there for others, to take care of them, to treat them with compassion, to support them, to laugh with them. I have meetings on my calendar and tasks on my list that rely upon me to accomplish them. These are all vows and agreements I made when I was sane, as it were. When I was not in the dark place that now surrounds me.
So I plant my feet in my Honor. If I cannot believe in the good things, I cannot give up on them either because I gave my word. And if I can hold onto nothing else in this haze, if nothing else is real and true, then my word shall be.
Just because I can’t feel good about things, because I can’t see one iota of worth in myself, that does not give me the right to be forsworn. Just because I would rather give up does not give me the right to break promises. Just because I am nothing does not mean my vows and service to others are similarly nothing.
And as I think on that a while, as I lean on Honor as the pillar which as not forsaken me, then others start to wake up again.
Endurance chuckles like an exhausted boxer in the ring. “Down and out? Not yet.”
Courage opens a sleepy eye. “It doesn’t matter if your heart is screaming. Get up anyway; it’s only pain.”
Defiance hauls in a breath after near suffocation. “If the world is against you, even inside your own head, then the only option is to fight back anyway.”
And they speak together.
“So what if you’re worthless? Worst case scenario is that you are precisely what you feel. So what if you’re right and nothing you contribute can ever matter? So fucking what? Get up. If the best you can do is not bring harm to someone else by keeping your damn word, then do that. If there is NOTHING ELSE in you that matters, then all that’s left are the chains that bind you to obligation. Loath yourself if you want, but you WILL honor those chains until there is no breath left in your body.”
That is why I know, even if I can’t feel it, that this will pass. That is why I know that I won’t be beaten. Because for as long as I am bound in Honor to those I cherish, for as long as I have even one vow outstanding, no matter how I feel, I will have the strength to pull through long enough for everything else to rebound and the haze to fade.
And that is how I will get through today.
Not on the faith that the sun will come up and I’ll feel better tomorrow.
Not because I am loved.
But because I bent the shape of my very self into a thousand promises, put them above everything else. So even if I wanted to lay down and die, I can’t. Not with those vows unfulfilled. They can cut like razors or burn like lava, but they keep me from slipping away.
When you get right down to it, the only real feeling I have left is the love I have for everyone else.
And for them, I will Honor my responsibilities, my promises, my vows.
And for them, I will find a way to Endure the self-hate in order to uphold that Honor.
And for them, that Endurance will become Courage, because fuck pain and fear anyway.
And for them, I will find the Courage once more to Defy even the chemicals in my brain, to throw my head back, and scream, and be heard, and the void will be filled again.
It’s not a smooth process. It drags every part of me over coals and barbed wire and glass shards and gravel. And from moment to moment, I do put my head down and surrender. But those moments pass and the next comes. And because I know that this is not the end, that this cannot be how every breath of my life will feel, because I know that cycles turn and the wheel gives way to a new beginning, I keep going.
I’m not okay. I dunno when I’ll be okay next.
But I’m here. And I have my pillars to which I cling.
Nothing in the world can fix me. But nothing inside me can eradicate me, either.
So, in the end, the only result is success. Even triumph.
Might take me a while, but I’ve got time.
See you on the other side of the haze.