I went to see my therapist today.
She asked how I’ve been doing, and I was honest with her: the last few days have been filled with such deep seated self-hatred. I cannot shake the feeling that I’m always doing something wrong or not doing enough for the people in my life or somehow screwing something up, and that quickly builds into completely polar thinking. I get distracted and things are just fine for a while, and then something happens and I remember I’m supposed to be mad at myself, and the whole cycle starts over again.
This is nothing new for me; in fact, it could be said that this is my modus operandi. Start with a faulty thought, let it cascade into a stream of faulty thoughts, hate myself for thinking that way, hate myself for hating myself, continue until I get to the point that I want to end the cycle but don’t know how so rather than listening to anyone I simply continue the cycle into absolute irrationality. Up is down, black is white. Nothing is correct, nothing is the truth. It’s exhausting to go through this because it’s starting to happen in cycles rather than isolated incidents. Where I once worked my way through episodes like this in a couple hours, now I’m stretching them out over several days.
My therapist asked me to write down the expectations I have of myself, as a way of getting the irrationality down on paper and in a tangible, refutable form. Then she asked my wife, who attended the session with me, to write down the expectations that she has of me. There was a considerable difference in the two lists. Hers was simple and direct – take meds each day, take time for yourself, accept acknowledgments of tasks and accomplishments, accept supportive praise, don’t give up on yourself, be honest about what’s on your mind. Mine was full of intangibles – do more, earn more, be better, and all delivered as a “should” statement, which if you don’t know is often used as a type of cognitive distortion. (The idea is that a “should” statement goes beyond a simple statement of fact, like “I should have stopped at the dry cleaners on the way home,” to an intangible method of self-abuse, like “I should be doing better.” It’s a very slippery slope for “should” statements to go from constructive to destructive, and a lot of it is the intent behind the statement. If you are using the word “should” as a punishment, then it’s moved beyond statement of fact and into cognitive distortion.)
She also asked me to write a list of the things that I do accomplish, and the list was typically self-deprecating – I clean the kitchen, I sometimes cook, I sometimes help with laundry, I sometimes help with menu planning, I sometimes pay bills, I make the budget and maintain it. (That last one is a weirdness – I like spreadsheets and enjoy manipulating data to get a desired effect, in this case being how we can manage our money to where everything gets paid as close to on time as we can and above all avoid missing anything to be paid out.)
My therapist then asked me to address each one of my expectations realistically, and I came up with a second list to combat the first, irrational one. One a week I dust, a new thing that addresses the need for me to do more around the house. (I dust, just not weekly.) I am allowed some downtime. I get some guilt-free time during the week, either a few hours daily or a day weekly. I understand and accept that earning more money right now is currently out of my control. I would like to – not should – meet the guidelines my wife has written for me to be a better partner, remembering compromise, communication, and assertiveness. Text or call my daughter more often. I will try harder to understand and accept reason when faced with it. I will acknowledge that low periods or days are a part of life, and I will try to be easy on myself when they occur, remembering that “this too will pass.”
All in all, the session took a lot out of me. I came home and immediately went to bed and stayed there for a few hours, getting up to try – and ultimately fail – to do my radio show, at the behest of my wife. She reminded me that today was a low day, and that I need to be easy on myself and not try to put on a brave face for radio.
The self-hatred has passed, though there’s a certain fatigue that’s set in now that it’s gone. Being irrational and having my emotions and logic completely out of control for as long as I have been is an exhausting thing. Like I wrote in my session earlier today, it’s a part of life with mental illness – but this too will pass.