I once wrote a list of positives about myself…. I have that list in front of me… I don’t remember when I wrote it, but I can only assume I was in a better state of mind, as I’d find it hard to say many good things about myself at the moment.
Here’s what I wrote:
- I am sensitive to the feelings of others.
- I have a good heart.
- I am approachable.
- I am honest and trustworthy.
- I am protective of those I care about.
- I am creative.
- I have a good sense of humour.
- I am respectful to people and animals and the world alike.
- I have good morals.
- I don’t let people down.
- I say what I mean and I mean what I say.
- Even if I sometimes doubt it, I am mentally strong – I’m still standing.
- I like my own company.
- I don’t need anyone else to complete me.
- I enjoy the freedom of being alone.
- I am a reserved person. I save my best for those who earn it.
- I take the time to care about others.
- I am polite.
- I am capable of learning.
- I am thoughtful.
- I am not too proud to apologise or ask for help.
- I am understanding.
- I am down-to-earth.
- I have good taste in music.
- I may not have much but I have a lot to offer.
Mental illness robs you of many of those things. It also robs you of the ability to see any good in you, even when it is still there. That’s when you need your friends to remind you of who you are. I had a friend say to me just yesterday some of the good things about me. I may not believe them all, but hearing it does help… if for no other reason than to know they don’t all hate me!
When I look at the list, there are some things I feel remain – good taste in music, creative, sense of humour – these tend to be a constant. Other things are subject to change… for instance I do let people down… I’m not that approachable anymore… I don’t always take the time to care about others… I’m not always understanding, though I try my best to understand the motives and feelings of others.
The reality is that when you’re ill certain parts of you close off. You can’t be the person you’ve always been, because you’re fighting a battle nobody else knows about. The worst thing that can happen is for someone to judge you on who you are as a result of mental ill health. It makes you think that’s who you are as a person.
I received a message from a friend the other day which threw into turmoil my image of myself. Those of us with BPD struggle with a sense of who we are at the best of times…. It made me feel like I’m a terrible person. It created chaos in me, because everything said to me was a misinterpretation and misunderstanding of me, my words and behaviour. So whilst I was showing certain positive qualities (in my mind at least!), they twisted it into me showing all the worst qualities they could think of. And the trouble with someone like me, is that others’ opinions of me become MY opinion of me. I think if one person thinks something, others must too, and therefore it must be true.
They may not have said the words, but the words they did say painted a picture of me as a selfish, controlling bitch. Instead of seeing me as someone in huge emotional pain, traumatised, mentally ill and doing the best I could to survive… alone, they warped the truth and made me the ‘bad guy’.
Part of me was furious with them and thought what a horrible person they are and how much I hate them. But the rest of me took it as a reflection of ME. If I’m not all the bad things my friend thinks I am, then I must at least come across that way, either because of my illness or because I don’t communicate my reality correctly.
They were upset with me for blogging about them, as they interpreted it in a negative way, not as intended. And they asked if I could understand how that would feel…. yes, I do understand. And my initial reaction was that I should blog about what an awful person I am. Even though my blog was not about attacking them, and was actually about explaining that my own mind (my illness) is the problem – therefore I was effectively taking the blame (even though mental illness is not my fault!) …. they interpreted it as me blaming them and painting them in a bad light. So to ‘even it up’, in their mind at least, I felt I should tell you all how damn awful I am…. even though I already know that, and I’m constantly putting myself down for having an illness! Here you go:
- I am a bad friend.
- I don’t deserve friendship, happiness or love.
- I’m too honest.
- I’m selfish.
- I’m messed up.
- I’m manipulative.
- I’m attention-seeking.
- I’m a bitch.
- I’m too demanding.
- I’m a Debbie Downer.
- I’m boring.
- I’m lazy.
- I’m a failure.
- I’m a bitter, angry, resentful person.
- I’m unforgiving.
- I’m immature.
- I’m clueless about real life and real problems.
- I’m nasty.
- I deserve pain.
- I don’t deserve to live.
- I’m hateful.
- I’m a drama-queen.
- I’m fat and ugly.
- I’m stupid.
- I’m an embarrassment to know.
- I’m a terrible person.
This is the list I feel my friend would want me to remind myself of. At a time when I need reminding of my good qualities, they only want to make me think bad things about myself. Even if it’s unintentional, the way they talk to me illustrates their opinions of me.
But I look at this list, and as much as it came to me a lot quicker and easier than a positive one ever could, deep down I know it’s not the truth. Some of it is. I am fat and ugly, I am too honest and at present I am rather hate-filled. But most other things are as a result of my illness. Some of them aren’t even true then – it would just be an opinion of someone uneducated. I appear selfish, manipulative, attention-seeking, lazy, a bitch and a drama-queen, because I have a mental illness that has taken over and is close to winning. But I am none of those things. I do know that.
Whilst I feel like a terrible person and at present I question my original list about the ‘having a good heart’, I know what my intentions are. A lot of people may think bad things about me and my motives. Just as my friend interpreted my blog as me attacking them, rather than explaining my illness to them, other people probably think I’m a certain type of person. If my friend thinks I’m selfish, heartless and controlling then I’d like to say this…..
You’re wrong. I have a heart and you bloody broke it. While I might not appear to care about others, I care about them sometimes more than I care about myself. I have a lot of compassion and empathy. It may not seem it, but I AM capable of putting myself in others’ shoes… something they seem unable to do with me. I try my best to understand others whilst they don’t even try to understand me and my illness. I am aware of people having their own lives and stresses – I’m not selfish… but being in distress can make me seem that way, like I’m ignorant to the existence of others’ lives. I worry about them and show concern for them, whilst they just attack me and make me feel like a burden. I take my time to consider my responses to people…. I don’t want to hurt people. People don’t seem to do the same for me. They all just react. I’m actually a very reasonable person, where others without my illness seem to be the unreasonable ones. I will apologise when I hurt people – none of them do it for me. Even if they’re the ones who owe me an apology, they just double down on the hurt or give a false apology, whereas I feel genuine guilt, shame and remorse and am genuinely sorry (and I’m the one with BPD!). I am thoughtful, considerate and to some degree kind. Even if people hurt me, I’ll still send cards, I’ll still send thoughts on anniversaries, I’ll still try my best not to let their bitterness towards me change who I am at my core. I still try my best to be gentle even when hurt. It’s difficult though.
So whilst people are out there thinking bad things about me, I am here, hurt by their low opinions of me…. their misunderstandings of me and who I really am. The only reason I appear to show more of the qualities from the second list than the first, is because I am unwell. I’ve always been unwell – I just used to be able to hide it better. I’d wear a mask for everyone, even my best friend. After my granddad died last year my mental health deteriorated, and after a breakdown at therapy a year ago I’ve lost control. With being abandoned and isolating myself this year it’s just got worse and worse, until I can no longer hide how I’m feeling. I can’t wear the mask. I suppose if you were a fan of using the words ‘high-functioning’ and ‘low-functioning’, I’ve always been high-functioning…. now not so much. Now I’m a lot lower-functioning and my illness is plain to see…. except to those who refuse to see it as an illness. They will just think I’ve become a bitch. Thank God for those who see it for what it is and still believe in me. Thank you to those people. ❤
I am many of those things on that first list… inside. I wish I could show them on the outside again, because where I don’t, people think I’ve changed – I haven’t. I just can’t express the good as loudly as the bad is screaming from me. It then makes people treat me differently, which makes my illness worse and makes me feel worse about myself.
It is SO important if you know someone with a mental illness, to never treat them differently because of their illness, or to blame them for how they are. How they appear to you may not be how they feel inside. You need to remind them of the good in them, because mental illness is a thief, and an illusionist… it plays tricks on the mind, whilst stealing the good. It’s not the fault of the person with the illness. We never asked to be ill, and we likely hate ourselves enough, without feeling you hate us too.
I may not like who I am right now. I may not be able to confidently state to the world who I am and make a list…. but I DO know who I am at my core. And when people try and misrepresent me it frustrates and upsets me. But they’re not my concern. Let them think what they like. I’ve lost people in the past because they chose to stick by their false opinions of me, rather than admitting they were wrong, or trying to understand my illness. I don’t say this in a big-headed way, as I don’t actually think much of myself currently, but… ‘It’s their loss’. If people want to lose me because of their inability to listen and understand my illness, and because of the qualities they lack, then so be it. I shouldn’t have to explain myself to them. They should know who I am.
I struggle enough to hold on to who I am. I don’t need people gaslighting me.
One day I hope to rediscover the good qualities in me… those I listed, and hopefully more. But right now I just have to exist with my reality and try not to hate myself any more than I already do. I know some very nice and wise people would say to cut myself some slack… to not be so hard on myself. They’re right. It’s not easy but I have to try and block out other people’s opinions of me and forgive myself for being too ill to be the true me. Hopefully it’ll return in time.