Will my own issues forever get in the way of what I dream to be, inadvertently hurting those I seek to help?
I found this bio following an article I’d saved on my computer.
Adina Cahan, LMHC, is a Licensed Mental Health Professional trained in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and Internal Family Systems (IFS). She treats eating disorders, trauma, addiction, and impulse, mood, and anxiety disorders. She has authored two books on the subject of PTSD and social phobia and recently released a two-volume set, Invalidation, Validated, on traumatic childhood invalidation and Cutting to the Heart of the Pain, a DBT-based self-help guide empowering individuals with borderline personality disorder to combat self-hatred, self-harming behaviors, and suicide ideation.
Some months before, I couldn’t remember when, I’d written that bio. In a moment of bitterness, I’d sat down at the computer and let my fingers take over the keyboard. I’d written my own bio, of the person I hoped to be one day — the strong, stable, and capable individual I was so far from at the moment.
I was tormented, self-hating, and suicidal. My mind was like a scientific invention gone awry; a machine rapidly thinking, repressing, calculating, spinning, and overheating until it self-destructed. I was locked into my head, protective walls in place over my heart, fighting a reality I couldn’t change, yet had to learn to live with safely and effectively.
I was in therapy, taking medication, alternately climbing and falling down mountains, pushing past and pinned beneath boulders, treading water or drowning in the pain. I struggled to use the skills I needed to live, isolated when I needed support. I desperately denied the pain I was in, and that individuals had caused me, so I could view myself as strong.
But I wanted to create tools for coping with eating disorders and distorted body image, for self-acceptance and validation, for the prevention of suicide and self-harm. I wanted to create hotlines for those in critical need late at night.
I wanted to write inspiring or informative articles. I wanted to spread acceptance and awareness on both sides of the fence, speak publicly and powerfully about mental health and mental illness.
I wanted to dream up methods of treatment that would make a difference to the world. I wanted to become a therapist, a source of support and empowerment. I wanted to help others through the reality I was fighting to cope with. I wanted to channel my pain into purpose, my hurt into healing.
I wanted to help others like me. It was the only thing that gave me hope, a reason to live and grow. Taking my pain and using it to build something whole from the shattered individual I was could give it meaning. If this was my life, I wanted it to be worth something.
Going through the darkness of mental illness has given me a crash course in the rougher side of life, in understanding and sincerely accepting others as they are, and believing they have in a promising future.
I can’t bear to see people give up on themselves. My lack of self-acceptance pushes me to see the good in others, to believe in them. Over the years I’ve learned to read others’ cues, to hear and assess their unspoken needs. I’ve learned not to judge or blame. I taught myself to resist the urge to problem solve or to quickly Band-Aid the wound.
I can be authentic and frank with others battling the darkness, finding the humor even in the blackest moments, without being offensive. I’ve learned to contain my emotions and remain neutral, feeling the hurt as I absorb others’ pain, yet not drown in it. I’ve been told I have an ability to make others feel safe and cared for. I can accept others’ actions and limitations in a way I can never accept my own.
One day, I’m told, I’ll make a good therapist. If only I can believe those who have never stopped believing in me. Only because of them am I still here, still trying. Will my own issues forever get in the way of what I dream to be, inadvertently hurting those I seek to help?
I often don’t see myself as part of the living world. Frozen in time, still young and vulnerable while those around me move on. I don’t feel my real age, and it’s disconcerting. I’m detached, living in my own world of pain, frightened to make any move toward commitment or connection to something solid, much as I long for it.
When everything is so unreal inside my own head, I need to be attached, but I don’t know how to make the inner world and outer one meld together seamlessly. I do it outwardly and seem to manage, but I don’t feel I’m managing.
How can I accept a job if I don’t know if or when I’ll be hospitalized in the near future? Can I go to school if I can barely concentrate because my mind is so taken up with emotional issues? How can I ever think of marriage if suicide is so often on my mind? Bottom line: How am I supposed to live a normal life?
People tell me I have to stop thinking and apply the Nike slogan: “Just do it.”
Maybe I should.
I walk through life wearing an invisible crash helmet and body armor, startling at the slightest noise or touch, expecting to be attacked physically or emotionally, ready to retreat.
In therapy I’m finally getting validation for the first time that certain situations I’ve undergone have been — and still are — traumatic for me.
But I can’t always live in a bomb shelter, even if I’ve been hit too many times. Even if every day of my life is a silent war. I can physically cower within my “shelter,” but as long as I’m me, I’m the battlefield, caught in the crossfire of the war zone of my mind.
If the battles will follow me wherever I go, for the same price I may as well get right out there and fight — and perhaps start achieving some victories.
I read the short paragraph once again, lingering over “my” book titles. Perhaps I would write those books — starting today — for me. Perhaps I could make it to print, if only in the pages of my own life, have my words be a support and source of hope for myself, so I can one day be that to others. Perhaps I can further my own work-in-progress, the manuscript I’m creating daily of my own life, before turning the page to a new and hopeful chapter.
I realize I don’t need to wait for “one day.” I can continue working on the self-help tools I’ve already begun creating without denigrating my efforts. I could let my innate creativity flower so I can help friends struggling beside me, if only I’d stop judging myself.
I close the document and shake my head ruefully. My laugh is bittersweet as I close the laptop cover on a dream. Sometimes I hate that despite everything, I still have so many dreams. Because it hurts to hope.
I’m so afraid to fail.
To have faith in my abilities.
To crawl out of my head and heart and into the real world.
Can I do it?
I don’t want to remain imprisoned by myself forever.
Perhaps one day I will read my bio somewhere. And that time, it will be for real.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 772)
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