One of the websites, and movements that I follow and support is To Write Love on Her Arms. It is a support and advocacy campaign for those suffering with mental illness and addiction. While they do not directly provide services. They provide locator services, support through community and blogging, advocacy and education. They are primarily driven by merchandise sales. These shirts, mugs, and other item sales bring in the money that is used for their mission.
From time to time they run special campaigns and sales that are either directed at funding a specific mission or campaign, or promote a concept or idea that is aimed at self improvement and healthy thinking.
For New Years and New Years Eve they have a recurring campaign called #WelcometoMidnight. This campaign asks the question, what are you leaving behind, releasing or letting go of at Midnight of 2016? Part of the idea here is to help remove faulty self talk, stigma, and unhealthy ways of looking at the world and yourself. Stigma is such a huge part of the realm of mental illness. It has the capability of destroying a person by making them feel unworthy of the life they feel they could and should have. Stigma creates the outcast, the defective human.
When I first came across this campaign I was eager to buy my shirt and post my tweet or blog and step in to the new year in a more positive manner. Then I went to answer the question. What am I leaving behind? What am I letting go of? I didn’t have an answer. I sat in the middle of it and could not come up with a reply. The temptation was to go full New Year resolution and make a very unrealistic statement about how I was going to show up to 2017. The idea, the concept, the campaign lost all weight to me because I tried to make it hollow.
This required doing some shadow work. It was time to look in the mirror and find those undesirable things, those thoughts, ideas and notions that I don’t not like about myself. It was time to look at actions and behaviors that I have that I do not approve of, or that are hurtful to myself or to others.
As someone who tries to support and mentor others, I tried to put forth the view that I have it together. I know I am not fooling anyone and that anyone that is relative and important knows that Rev J is kind of a mess, at least some of the time. I have a mental illness. (several actually) I’m never going to be “together”. It’s not part of the plan. Now I am going to have to look at the underbelly and dig out the mess and take a look at it. Really.
So now I pull out undesirable self thoughts. What are the things that I tell myself that I shouldn’t? What are the things I say that hurt me? I am not talented. I am unworthy of love. I have been and will be a bad parent. I have been and will be a bad husband. I am a horrible friend. I am sick and incapable of doing the things that I want to do. I am going to fail so why try. I am not good enough.
These are the things I tell myself. This is the way I treat me. This is wrong. So what do I want to leave behind at midnight? I want to leave behind self destructive talk. Is this a realistic thing for me right now? Probably not. Self talk is a strong monster and the chiming of a clock won’t slay it. So what can I do. I can leave behind the notion that I have to listen to negative self talk. I can put into practice my Cognitive training and work on replacing those negative words I use to abuse myself with words of encouragement and kindness. Cognitive therapy, self talk reprogramming is a process, and it isn’t easy. It is a process that I know and need to use more frequently.
I am a talented musician. I am worthy of love, from myself and from other people. While I have made mistakes as a parent, I can look at my three fully grown and thriving children and see that I have also been a good parent. I have made mistakes as a husband. However, I can look at twenty five years of marriage to an amazing friend and I can see that I have also been a good husband. I have problems reaching out and staying connected with people. I truly love my own company. I can also look at those people that call me friend and I can look back at the the things they say to me and that they say about me publicly, and know that yes, I am also a good friend, in my own way, on my terms. While there are physical limits to what I can and should do, as well as obstacle brought on by mental illness, there are many things that I enjoy that I am capable of participating in, if I look at them realistically. Yes, I fail at attempts. We all do. There have also been amazing successes. I need to look no further than the wall that contains my photographs, medals and other memorabilia and I can see that I am also successful.
These are the things that I need to get programs into my self talk. These are the things that I need to bring into 2017, so that I can leave the negative behind, one day.
Behaviors is another place that brings about self loathing and negativity. There moments that come up that I have not handled well. There are behaviors that are inexcusable. While a person with a mental illness needs understanding when it comes to behavior issues, I have and will continue to feel that once you have achieved adulthood and you have a diagnosis, you have a responsibility to work towards recovery and betterment. Your, my illness should never be an excuse for poor behavior.
What are my weak points here? What needs to be left behind? Two things truly jump out at me here. I have anger management issues. While my anger management is much better than it was ten years ago, there is plenty of room for improvement. The other behavior that I want and need to work on is my reaction to those that I care about when they see that things may be taking a certain turn, even when that is not actually the case.
The anger I will set aside for this writing and talk more about the second. When you have a long road and struggle with mental illness patterns form. People around you, those closest to you, can see warning signs of imminent trouble. From experience they know what is coming and they react according to what you have demonstrated over time. I may have improved and that particular moment or idea may no longer trigger a negative response. I may say something that at one time may have been a forerunner to a mood or behavior that was negative, but not it is not that way any longer. It doesn’t really matter to those that have been through hell and back with and because of you. They see something that triggers, in them, a memory of past behaviors, and they react accordingly. It is not their fault. It is no one’s fault. It is simply a reaction based off experience.
This can be a truly frustrating moment for me. In fact, this action, reaction, reaction scenario can trigger the feared behavior when it wasn’t actually present at the time, fulfilling the fear and reenforcing the thought process. I need to take responsibility for training those around me to react negatively to trigger points that may no longer exists. I need to be patient and kind. I need to remind myself that I built this behavior and I need to help change it. Instead of getting frustrated and bringing forth the behavior that was feared, or worse, I need to demonstrate the mood and behavior that is actually present in a calm and encouraging manner. I need to be at peace with the world I helped create and work toward changing it to how it should be, not pushing back against an idea that my behavior manifested.
So lets ask the question again. What are you leaving behind at #WelcometoMidnight? That. See above. There isn’t a real answer here because the notion isn’t simple. It is complex. What am I leaving behind? A lesser me perhaps.
#WelcometoMidnight. What are you leaving behind?