I’m a few weeks into a course of counselling because I’ve been struggling with depression and anxiety. Every week we peel away another layer to reveal things about myself that I really don’t want to look at. Like how as a child being ill or hurt seemed like my only way to get attention and care so I just carried on doing this. Did I manifest M.E. subconsciously? I believe that your body is only ever trying to protect you, perhaps my body thought I needed this horrible illness in order to get what I needed: care. When M.E. wasn’t enough to get the care I needed and people carried on hurting me, my body created another illness: anorexia, even more deadly than the first one. I felt a desperate need to physically show people how much I was hurting inside. Being ill in some way is how I get care but it’s also how I get revenge. A little voice in my brain tells me to stop eating or get ill or hurt myself whenever someone hurts me in the hope that they’ll feel guilty and make things ok again. I realise that this is not rational and absolutely not ok and I fight the voice, but it’s what my body/mind has been doing in a messed up attempt to protect me for years.
At this level, I’m acting as a victim, as someone that bad things happen to who needs care and attention but deeper than this, at the core of everything, is a belief that I am not good enough as I am. I am not deserving of love and attention as I am. At this level, the ill health and the bad things that happen to me are a form of self harm, of punishment. I make myself ill, I hurt myself on purpose, I do things that prevent me from getting better, I put myself in harmful situations or don’t leave them when I should, I self-sabotage, I do things I don’t want to do. I do this because I have very low self esteem. I do this because I don’t think I’m ok as I am. I do this because I don’t know who I am if I’m not ill or a victim.
The counsellor watches me as I cry over these realisations. I feel awful about manipulating the people I love, I didn’t realise I was doing it; I did it out of a fear of abandonment and desperate need for care but that’s not an excuse for my behaviour. I want to apologise to everyone. I want to hide under a duvet. I’m terrified of rejection. The false walls I have been building around me for years have been pulled down and now I feel vulnerable and exposed. The motivation behind every action I’ve ever taken has been to please other people, to keep them in my life, to have them care about me and ultimately to want me around. To be healthier my motivation has to be what I want, or more accurately, what I need. I need to find out who I really am without these masks and devices. I was supposed to spend the summer doing things for myself, no work, just getting healthy and indulging myself, working out what I want to do next. What do I do? I apply for a job in the city I had to leave a few months ago, due to illness, partly so I could feel useful and independent again and partly in the hope that I could be closer to someone I love again. Because he made me feel ok and safe more than anyone else has. I made another person and another task the focus again (though in my defence it is a good job). “That’s interesting” says the counsellor, “you always have to be attached to someone or some task. You can’t just sit with yourself”. She reminded me that this person chose not to be with me because he needed to put himself first, that he told me he couldn’t be what I needed, that he needed find himself and that I need to respect that. I felt awful again. I wanted to apologise to this person, for not hearing him before, for being so caught up in my needs that I hadn’t respected his. He was so strong and brave for standing up for his needs. But I know that contacting him even to apologise is not respecting his wishes. Low self-esteem and guilt hit as well as the fear of letting go. I know that I need to let go of this person, of other people that I have unhealthy attachments to, of the version of myself I have created out of fear. I’m terrified because I feel like when I let go of all of these things there will be nothing left and when that happens I’ll get even more depressed and I won’t get out of bed or worse. I feel like I need to grieve but I’m avoiding it. When I’ve peeled off all the layers and let go of all the attachments there’s just nothing left because my low self-esteem won’t let me see the good attributes I have, just as I am.
When I was about 7 years old I drew a picture of a vase with flowers in and wrote across the top of the page: “I want to be an artist”. I keep a photo of myself at that age by my mirror with a post-it note that says “look after yourself” as if my inner child is reminding me to look after both of us. Pretty much the only way I can look after myself is to pretend I’m looking after a child instead. I’d never deny a child food if they were hungry or let them hurt themselves on purpose or ignore their cries. So my inner child’s ambition to be an artist is about all I’ve got to go on at the moment in terms of working out who I am. Low self-esteem stopped me drawing years ago when it decided I wasn’t good enough. But I found some old drawings that I think are good and stuck them on my wall to remind me that I can draw. I’ve been attending a pottery class because I loved clay as a child and I’ve been feeling compelled to draw for the first time in a long time. My counsellor tells me that my creative side is far more likeable than my controlling side, I get that. She says that I come alive when I talk about art and working with children. I’ve always been a little afraid of my creative side, or perhaps I actually feel ashamed of it because it’s big and loud and messy and has received negative reactions at times.
Sitting with myself is going to be a struggle but maybe sitting and drawing might be a way to start.