When I was first diagnosed, I asked my therapist what my greatest risk would be. I expected some spectacular answer, like, 'don't eat beef or you'll run over a cliff'...instead she looked me straight in the face and said, "Self-pity".
Even if I didn't try to make others sorry for me, I often waddled in neck-deep pity for my poor little damaged self.
No one can blame us for sometimes feeling pretty sorry about this mess we didn't ask for. Sometimes. But beyond that, it's like poking an infected tooth. Why do it? Do you like pain?
For instance, sometimes I get very boo-hooey over the American Dream as portrayed on TV. I'll never meet that standard - I can't work enough to earn that salary. And it's not my fault! And it's not fair! Why can't I have fashionable clothing and a huge bank account and unlimited credit? Why can't I have a car that reminds one of a panther and streaks along curvy shore roads?
I have special trouble with this whenever I hit a decade birthday. I think, ‘I should have this by now. Ordinary people do. Ordinary people can work 40 hours a week. They can learn new skills and switch careers if they want to. Ordinary people finish school by the time they're 30 and find a partner without worrying about when to betray their Dark Secret.’
Well, OK, all these things may be true (notice I said may be). I may have spent 30 years learning to live with my disease while other people were using that time in other ways. And occasionally this does make me sad.
But is it true that I am deprived?
First of all, I have never hankered after the forty-hour week and settled career. I have always wanted to be a writer. So the chances are I would not have spent those years climbing the corporate ladder even were I free to do so.
Secondly - and you already know this - the advertising machinery of this country is not a trustworthy measure of what we 'should' be, or by what age we 'should' be there. Advertising is to make people want the product, buy the product, make the company some profit, and keep the good old economy going. That is its purpose. Not your purpose. Not necessarily in your best interests at all.
Thirdly, what is the good of thinking this way? Why moan about what I've missed? If I must look back, why not look at what I've achieved? As of this writing, I am in my 22nd year of recovery. I am no longer afraid to go out in public, or afraid that if I don't watch out I'll do something awful to the ones I love. I have a job that I can believe in. I have people in my life whom I respect and love, and they respect and love me in return. Would I really trade that in for a Lexus? And in the end - long after anybody normal would have thrown in the towel - I actually found that great husband and nice house in the suburbs - at 45. So you never know. Is it really time to give up yet?
Fourthly, and most importantly, this self-pity is based on a false premise. It assumes that everyone without my disease is happy and normal. Or at most, they have only minor problems that don't stack up against mine.
It's just an illusion. The longer I live, the more I find that everyone has some burden. Some of those burdens are incredibly awful. Just because you can't see the crack doesn't mean somebody’s not broken. We have not been specially picked out for grief and suffering. The human race is a sort of Special Olympics, and everyone gets a suitable handicap. This is ours.
We all get in this funk sometimes. It’s natural. But the best way out is to start counting what we do have. It adds up fast. Start with being able to read, and having access to a computer. That puts you ahead of much of the world, and that’s just the start. Go ahead, try it, count your blessings: 1,2,3...
Deborah is a public speaker and the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. She is currently recording it as an audiobook and CD set. Deborah has also published two romantic comedies. All three books are available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com, Kindle Editions, iBooks, and other major vendors; or you can order them from your local bookstore. Visit her web page at www.lafruche.net, or see her catalog at www.lastlaughproductions.net. She has narrated a guided meditation CD, “Island Journey,” produced with her husband, musician Robert Hamaker; available on iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, and many other venues.