You are Your Enemy and Your Enemy is You

the NYC brooch

Privilege has become one of the dirtiest words but I don’t feel like sharing my thoughts on it right now.

There are so many skirmishes in progress at every hour of the day.  Between people and government.  Between governments and governments.  Between men and women.  Between conservatives and liberals.  Between religion and atheism.  Between religion and religion.  Between race and race.  Between straight and gay.  Between rich and poor.  Between lower class and middle class.  Between middle class and upper class.  Between lower class and upper class.  Between nationality and nationality.  Between sisters and brothers.  Between mothers and fathers.  Between haves and have nots.  Between mental health and mental illness.  Between old and young.  Between parents and children.  Between education and ignorance.  Between us and them.  Between you and me.

It needs to stop.  All this fighting hurts my head.  It hurts all of us.

All of us.

The deep irony being that my mental illness draws lines between me and everyone else all the time without any intention on my part.  And I spend so much time trying to rip the walls down only to find that other people build them almost as fast as me with about as much intention.

What I live with inside myself is never going away.  It isn’t there because of anything I want for myself or those around me*.

The hardest part of my mental illness is controlling the urge to turn everything against myself.  Self harm is the only way I’ve ever known how to control pain, anger, discomfort, exclusion, loneliness, and fear.  Not just my own, but everyone else’s too.  When people I love are hurting in any way I want to absorb their pain and kill it inside myself.  When people are angry with me I want to hurt myself.  When I see animals being abused and I feel rage against the abusers and there’s nowhere for that rage to go and nothing I can do, I internalize it and try to cannibalize it.

Lately I’ve been getting pulled down by overwhelming negative stimulus from the media and from all the people I know and the biggest mouthpiece for this is facebook.  I’m tired of listening to people drawing bigger lines between us and them every day.  I’m tired of everyone being the constant watchdogs for right and wrong in the world where really they’re just pointing out the wrong and not embracing the right.

Everyone is saying “Listen!” and I took it to heart and I’ve been listening a lot, to a lot of people.  No one wants to be invisible.  No one wants to be ignored.  I’m listening hard every day and I’ve come to this conclusion:

Crusading of any kind makes people blind in dangerous ways.  Crusading of any kind inevitably turns angry and evil and becomes a way to bludgeon anyone who isn’t just like you.

The only way good change is possible is when the listening goes both ways.  When we try to find what we all have in common instead of pointing swords at destroying the apparently insurmountable differences between us.

I am constantly being reminded of how different I am and the only reason I can still be in this world is because I have learned to connect with people over the things we have in common.  That’s where compassion and empathy grow.  That’s where healing is possible.  That’s where bridges are built between disparate populations.  I may struggle constantly with myself and my place in the world but I also find the most peace in sharing my struggles with people who live in the same shadows I do.  And I find the most peace with people who have lived completely differently from me by understanding that no matter how different we are from each other – we all have universal things in common.  I look for those.

I don’t know the best way to speak to people who are different from myself but I always try to speak from my truth and listen for theirs.  We’ve got things connecting us.  All of us do.  I don’t give a shit if you look different from me or speak differently from me or come from somewhere different.  I know you’ve experienced heartache.  I know you’ve lost things dear to you no matter how much money you have or how much privilege or how much you’ve lived without.  There are some things we’ve all experienced no matter how different we are in other ways.

That’s the only way forward.  You want a revolution or do you want peace?  Because right now it feels like everyone I know is taking up arms whether literally or metaphorically and I know where it’s leading.  The only way forward is by seeing yourself in everyone around you no matter how hard that is.

I’ve been struggling harder lately against my instinctual need to hoard all the hurt of the world and break it down in my own body.  But all the hurt in the world is bigger than the ocean and wider and longer than all the human lives that created it.

I know that this self harm, this pain absorbing quality is not healthy.  Feeling angry at others but turning it inward to myself is unhealthy.  This is mental illness.  Feeling anger at others and bending it back into myself is not healthy.  Feeling devastated by pain that isn’t even my own isn’t healthy.  I can’t filter it out.

Maybe it’s also what allows me to see myself in my enemies.  To see that there aren’t a whole lot of true enemies in the world besides ourselves.

One thing’s for sure – if everyone had the same pain absorbing quality that I do, there would be no war.  You would see yourself and your family in your enemies’ faces and when they were hurt you’d feel their pain in your own body.  You wouldn’t be able to trick yourself into believing that the people you’re bombing are bad.  You’d see that killing other people’s children in political or religious wars is exactly the same as slaughtering your own and there is no way you would lift a gun against anyone.

Everything is personal to people like me.

The deep irony that it keeps us outside most circles of humans.  In a way that they can’t always tell but I always feel.

Listening is one of the most important things we can do.  Listen to each other.  I was about to say I don’t have a choice but to listen to people because I can’t shut their voices out of my head but that’s not really true.  I can choose to isolate myself completely and allow myself to become agoraphobic.  I can choose to shut out absolutely all outside stimuli to the point where the world’s voices only enter my head in the general hum like hearing the hum of a room full of partying people through a closed door.  You can’t pick out specific conversations though you can’t stop hearing their buzz.  I can choose to go completely off-line.  I can choose not to read any news stories as I have done in the past, back before the internet found ways of shoving them at me all day long.  For four years I worked for an online network and I couldn’t shut out people’s opinions because my job was to read them on blogs.  Now I have a huge network of genuine online friends and a valuable support system that comes with the price of exposure to the whole world’s pain and anger.  So I can choose to cut myself off or I can choose to continue to struggle harder with my mental illness which is exacerbated by such exposure.

I have a choice.  It’s not a nice choice.  That’s often the case.  It’s not a set of choices I think are all that great.  But I DO have a choice.  If I choose to protect myself mentally then I will also expose myself more strongly for what I am.  Agoraphobia is a much more obvious manifestation of people like me, it outs you 100%.  I have isolated myself in some ways already by never going to parties or concerts or shows or large gatherings but I still walk the world appearing to be mostly normal.  If I completely shut myself off from the things that exacerbate my mental illness then I also lose all my camouflage.

For now I think the best way to create better protection without shutting myself off completely is to not engage in any social media until the afternoon.  I need to wake up earlier and write for at least 5 hours a day before letting anyone else’s voices into my head.  All it does is paralyze me.

I’m going to start by waking myself up early tomorrow and spend the first 5 hours writing.  Then I’ll do something around the house like my dishes or cleaning the bathroom.  Then I’ll let myself check in with my online people.  Just in time for my kid to come home and need me so I can’t focus on other people’s shit.

It’s worth a shot.  My psychologist told me that anything I do to that helps me function better in this world that doesn’t hurt other people is not a crutch but a tool to better mental health.  I’m not ready to cut myself off from the mixed blessing of my online life or my physical every day world, but if I end up having to do it, I’ll be in good company I’ll never meet.

Get it?

Special note: this post is not about  a single bad day or a bad period.  This isn’t about a mental illness flare-up.  Things are really good in my life right now.  This is what I experience on a regular basis.  This is normal for me.  I just don’t express it very often because it makes me as uncomfortable as it makes other people.  It isn’t something that can be fixed, either.  I don’t need or want pity and I don’t need help.  I know how to ask for help when there’s something anyone can do.  The one good thing about saying all this stuff out loud, and why I do it, is that every now and then someone hears me who desperately needs to know they aren’t the only one like them.  That makes it worth the discomfort every single time. 

*That is the only lie in this post.  I DO kind of wish you all had to experience exactly what I do.

2 comments

  1. nadine says:

    I like your idea to limit the outside to after noon and until max gets home. Sounds like a very healthy boundary! I know a lit of people whoalso can oonly handle so much, and they too find ways to set limits.

    • angelina says:

      Social media really helps me feel connected to a broader circle of people but I need to take much better care of myself with regards to what articles and links I expose myself to.

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