Pt. 1: Bad Enough: (Self-Discovery Word By Word)
This post is brought to you by Boris Badenov.
September is drawing to a close, which means — also — one month of the Hands-Down-a-Thon down. The Hands-Down-a-Thon, for those of you who’ve missed my sporadic references, is a collective attempt to kick compulsive skin-picking (or hair-pulling), in support of the Trichotillomania Learning Center. So, for the past several weeks, I’ve been fighting my urge to skin-pick and my friends have been supporting me, — sometimes financially, by showing the TLC some love in my name.
Prior to the HDAT, I’d mentioned skin-picking briefly on Twitter, but I’d rarely brought it up in other contexts. Doing so, to be honest, terrified me. What would it mean to discuss skin-picking with friends, with family, with people who knew me on Facebook or through this blog? With people who had never seen me stare into a mirror for 40 minutes, losing myself in the focus on my face?
The more I considered these questions, the more I felt confident only in my insecurity. It was “inevitable,” I figured, that people would shake their heads and write off my concerns. I braced myself for that response: Really, Mary? Everybody picks at acne, picks at scabs. Is it really that big of a deal?
I kept thinking, If only this were like the eating disorder — deadly and dangerous and so clearly necessary to walk away from. If only this were like cutting — blatantly self-destructive. If only this were obviously bad enough to be worth quitting…
If you knew me when I was starting any of those fights, you’re probably rolling your eyes right about now. You’re rolling your eyes because you recognize this claim for what it is: complete revisionism. I had these exact fears when facing previous issues. I was once as terrified to hear, “you don’t really have this, ” “it’s not really that bad,” and “you don’t really need help” about the eating disorder, as I was more recently to hear it about derm. There were then, as there are now, people whose struggles seemed more obvious, more serious, and more legitimate — readily available for comparison (and the self-imposed guilt trip). They deserve help. They have real issues. Their problems warrant treatment. But mine? Aren’t bad enough.
I also hear this refrain, on a fairly regular basis, from others: I’m not in what I consider the worst situation. I’m not having what I would call the worst possible time. So are things really bad enough that I should look into getting help?
I’ve sent this message and received it. But lately I’ve been thinking. What is this question? What is this “bad enough”?
My first year of college I landed myself in the platonic version of a Lifetime movie. I spent the majority of each day managing a friend’s emotions, in an effort to protect against her verbal tirades and emotional manipulation. (Both of which were as common, in that “friendship,” as coffee dates and hugs have been in others.) The situation was toxic at best, but I struggled to term it “abusive” — and I refused, for many months, to talk openly about it or to walk away. It was bad, but I could handle it. It wasn’t bad enough to warrant ending.
It took some honesty about what I was really managing, two truly stand-up friends, and what amounted to an intervention on my behalf, before it occurred to me to question “something I’m able to handle” as my relational standard. Because, yes, I cared about this person. And yes, I could get through the days as I was. I could manage. But what if “managing” wasn’t the question? What if “is it really so bad?” wasn’t my bar? What if my bar, instead, was “what good am I getting out of this? What is this contributing to my life?”
When I started asking that question, I managed — finally — to walk away. Away from a friendship I could sustain, toward friendships that truly sustained me.
I didn’t walk away because I’d had enough. I’d had enough — or perhaps hadn’t had much of anything — for nearly a year. I walked away because I changed my perception of what made staying worthwhile.
…One of the best doctors I’ve ever had could mix metaphors with the best of them. (This is, if you’re not aware, a core therapeutic skill, particularly when working with writer!nerds, such as The Mmax.) He offered me one, many years back, that has stuck ever since. I’d been reciting my semi-endless monologue of “my life is really not that bad, I have no problems, things are fine, I don’t want to tell you I’m struggling because later you’ll figure out it’s not that bad and you’ll see I was lying” (repeat). And he gently interrupted me to say that if the wrong-est thing in my entire life was that my parents had hung flourecent lights throughout our house, and I was not a fan of flourescent lights, he wanted to hear about it. He wanted to be there to support me. And he wanted to do what he could to see those light bulbs changed.
Of course, the reality is that there were deeper things going on than the light fixtures of my childhood home. But the permission he gave me that day to feel whatever I did, about whatever I did, stuck with me through many “problems” to come. It gave me permission to quit minimizing my problems and begin taking them seriously. Regardless of what’s actually wrong or how bad it might be by some erroneous measurement system, I began seeking out support, etching out solutions, moving through the struggles.
Behind every “bad enough,” I see now, is the good enough. Am I good enough to deserve help? Am I good enough to deserve feeling better? Am I good enough to want and to have and to respect my feelings as they are?
And the short answer to that is: yes. Always. You are always worth it.
(More on the long answer in part two.)
This post is the first half of my thoughts on the Self-Discovery Word by Word prompt for September.
I got wordy. (Which seems appropriate.) You still have a few days to participate–
Did I mention I’m hosting?