Mental illness can sometimes feel like an endless ball of tangled yarn: each knot taking an incredible amount of focus and determination to untie. A feeling of success when a few knots have been conquered, followed by a feeling of overwhelming dread when you see what is still waiting for you ahead.
Depression and anxiety have been the two friends with whom I’ve shared the last thirty-years. While I’ve found myself better able to control these two toxic life partners of mine, I’ve also found that the two seem to be nuanced: symptoms of a larger, overall issue. Pinpointing that overall issue has been far more difficult for me than conquering the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Therapy and medication have helped, but not brought me to the place to solve the problems that I seem to continuously encounter decade after decade.
“You’re dealing with PTSD from childhood abuse,” said one therapist. “Your depression stems from your inability to get in touch with your inner child, and comfort her,” claimed another therapist. “You’re clinically depressed, and as along as you’re taking medication, you should be fine,” a psychiatrist once told me. My current therapist does not think that my labeling of my problems makes things any better for me, however I disagree with her. She has gently mentioned things to me about my learned helplessness, my choices in men, how deeply I seem to feel my emotions, and how I become submissive and self-sacrificing to those I love. I tend to keep her words in the back of my mind until one day they click for me. This time, that day came late last week when I was scouring psych literature to figure out what the hell is wrong with me (after a girlfriend made a comment about my level of masochism). If psychology was still using the DSM-III to diagnose mental illness, I probably would have stumbled upon my answer a lot sooner: self-defeating personality disorder. It ain’t pretty, but finally there’s an answer for me about what I’m doing, and why I’m doing it.
I’m an absurdly over-educated person who has refused to use her education to further her career. Why? Probably because I’m afraid that I would fail. It’s far easier to be really good at a job that is below my level of intelligence. I’ve always joked that going to college is my hobby, and an expensive one at that. I’ve told people that I value life-long learning, and that one of these days I’ll probably use my education to do something better with my life. Some day. Always some day, because there’s always a reason for me not to do things now. My motivation level is abysmal, yet I am constantly claiming (and honestly feeling) as though I’m trying to do something different.
I vacillate between meaningful relationships with a few different types of men: ones who need me to help “fix” them in some way, ones who are going to leave me, and ones who are so kind to me that I begin to feel that I’m being smothered. If I’m not in a relationship with someone, I’m having a great time with one-night stands. I have a strong hand in ruining my relationships, and playing the victim afterwards (because I feel like a victim, even though I’ve basically caused my own unhappiness). I push people away with my words and my actions, and then act shocked and hurt when they leave, or stand up to me. Things will be going along just fine, and it’s as though a subconscious alarm goes off in my head to awaken the self-defeating behavior that has been resting and regaining it’s strength. I suppose I find it easier to push people to the point of leaving, so I don’t ever have to feel the pain of being rejected.
That same alarm goes off for me in various areas of my life, not just romantic relationships. Things are going well financially? Oh, now seems like a good time to spend all of my money on clothes, because fuck having food to eat, right? Things are going well at work? Great time to drop the ball on a project. Things are going well with friends or family? Well, now is the time to pull away from them and ignore them. No rhyme or reason for any of it. I will just give in to the subconscious cry to ruin whatever is good in my life. Somewhere deep inside I seem to feel that I am undeserving of anything that is good. I can’t say that it’s a terrible surprise to me, but it is upsetting, as I thought that I had dealt with all of this already.
So where does one go from here? When they realize how they are personally self-destructing, and have been for years? How does one begin to take the steps necessary to change herself, her life, when she feels utterly unable to do so? It’s like being stuck in a prison of my own mind, one that I had no hand in building for myself, and one where I feel helpless to escape.