Cleolinda Jones (cleolinda) wrote,
Cleolinda Jones

Guilt: it's what's for dinner (and lunch. And breakfast)

I'm going to go ahead and post my psychiatric meeblings here, separate from the linkspam and general account of the day, so that if you want to skip them, you can. Basically, it's a followup to the posts about the dream--the bottom line of what I think's going on. With my life, I mean, not the dream itself.

I think I need to pay laurelin_kit for therapy, because in the course of talking with her last night, I realized--in a concrete way that I never really had before--that my big problem, my basic response to any situation, is to feel guilty about it. And I think (I said, in the course of thinking out loud), it may have started when I was in school, very young, and I was the teacher's pet, and because I liked to write stories, everyone began to treat me like some kind of legend in the making, I don't know. I actually had a high school teacher who was talking about how Shakespeare has no known heirs, "unless maybe [Cleo] is one." And she gave me the sweetest, most genuine "I believe in you" smile, and I wanted to die. I got labeled the smartest girl in school (exhibit A: "Most Intellectual" in the Who's Who), even though I'm terrible at math and science, wasn't the valedictorian (or anywhere near it), and didn't take the hardest classes. For whatever reason, I feel like everywhere I go, people create this legend around me that I never live up to, and the moment I have to face that fact in some concrete way, I fall apart.

I actually think this is part of why I have trouble finishing projects, because as long as they're not finished, I haven't disappointed anyone yet. Except that then I feel guilty for not finishing them. Because guilt is my default response to every situation. I feel guilty that I didn't make higher grades, that I melted down my senior year in college and flunked out of a couple of things, that I disappointed my professors in the process, that I didn't apply for grad school, that I waited a year to go at all, that I then went to the closest program nearby instead of the prestigious ones my professors wanted me to try out for, that I never finished grad school, that I had a French-Spanish major in college and I've never used my degree at all, that I wasn't the publishing wunderkind they expected me to be at age 16 (or 20, or 25, or nearly 30 now, or...), that I can't drive, that I'm overweight, that I'm so codependent on my mother, that I'm frittering my life away, that I've been frittering my life away for so long.

Here's the problem. I mean, the bigger problem: my response, in turn, to feeling guilty is to collapse in on myself and feel paralyzed. And then I feel guilty for making it worse. And then I collapse in on myself some more. And then I feel guilty some more. And then... you get the picture. The interesting thing is that I don't feel guilty about being bipolar per se--as y'all have noted, I'm very clear that it's a biological, neurological illness, and I don't see any need or reason to be ashamed of it. It's like diabetes: you do what you have to do, you take what you have to take, you deal with it. But I do feel guilty, I realize now, about the way I deal with it. Even though I don't feel any guilt or shame about having depression per se, I really, really hate for people to see me in the middle of it, like I feel like I should be fighting it harder or something, and I know they'll feel I should be, too. I feel guilty for being so weak in the grip of it, not for having it in the first place, I guess; I feel so awful about handling depression badly that clearly (I decide) I'm worthless and hopeless, and then I feel even guiltier for giving up so easily. So I tend to lie about it. I tend to pretend that everything's okay, and I'm really good at that, particularly since I go into Keeping Up Appearances mode when I'm around other people. I lie about it and I don't seek help.

And here's why I'm telling you this: I don't think I've ever realized that, in so many words, every problem in my life, every way I find to sabotage myself, boils down to feeling some kind of guilt about something, probably everything, and letting it spiral out of control--I create ways to feel guilty, I metastasize guilt. It's like realizing that you don't have a dozen stupid little aches and pains and common colds; you have a cancer, a specific tumor, that's causing all of it. And that cancer is not fatal. You may have to dig to get down to that tumor, and it may have its roots in you pretty deep, but now that you know you have this tumor, it's time to focus on it and try to get it out. I don't know how, exactly--it will probably involve some therapy, even if that therapy is just me writing in my diary or inflicting it on you fine people--but I am going to have to find a way to recognize when I'm killing myself with pointless guilt and change that behavior. I don't know if I'm going to have to forcibly replace thoughts with some kind of positive mantra or what, but I am going to have to stop feeling guilty about every damn little thing if I am going to move on with my life. And at the same time, I'm going to have to accept responsibility for all these things--to accept the idea that I'm the only one who can change them, I'm the only one who can move myself forward, but without feeling guilty about not having done it sooner, or trying to do it now, or not immediately succeeding. I am going to have to reach some zen mindset that now is all that matters, forward is all that matters, and everything else is forgiven.

(Note: Somehow, I was raised Baptist, not Catholic. I know, I'm surprised too.)

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