Tag Archives: mental illness

“I am weak in every way”

I am increasingly getting ideas for blog posts by seeing what people are tying into their search engine that lands them on my blog. I find it fascinating to look at in general, but once in a while something catches my attention. Sometime after I wrote my I am not Weak post, someone found my blog by using “I am weak in every way” as search parameters.

I don’t know if this actually reflected that person’s mental state at the time. Maybe they were looking for something specific, maybe they were looking for song lyrics, but maybe they were not feeling very good about themselves and running a search related to that. I am going to write this assuming that it was the latter.

I want to talk about weakness a little bit. It’s such an insidious concept. The idea that I am weak seeps into my brain and becomes ridiculously difficult to dislodge. It seems to be part of an overall idea in my head that I am simply inadequate. That I am Not Good Enough; not as good as Everyone Else. Which is to say, I know what it is like to feel weak in every way. It is something that I struggle with more than I would like to admit.

There is something that I read about once, about how actually a lot of people out there struggle with feeling inadequate. Sad to say, it is, apparently, a fairly normal way to feel. One of the things that far too many people do is not actually compare themselves to those around them (not that you should be doing that). Instead, people create the idea of a person which is constructed out of the very best elements of the people around them. This imaginary person keeps an immaculate house, makes dinner from scratch every day, has amazingly behaved children or pets, is in a fabulous relationship, does all the crafts with a high degree of skill, is highly successful in their career and so on and so forth. I think you get the idea. I know I do this far too much. I feel inadequate because I am not living up to ALL of these rather lofty goals and ambitions. Yet in reality, most people only manage one or two of those things with a high degree of skill or success. That perfect person is entirely imaginary, and to hold ourselves to that standard is to set ourselves up for failure.

But as much as I try not to, I still do that. I think that I should have achieved [insert thing here] and I judge myself for my perceived failure to do so. I assume that I am wrong somehow to not have achieved various things, and that the only possible reason for my failure is that I must be weak. Because strong people manage to do everything, right?

Well, not really. People sometimes can put on a good face, but mostly people achieve what they achieve, and it just isn’t going to be everything. This is why I try to make an explicit point to remind myself of my strengths and accomplishments. I remind myself that the list of ALL THE THINGS is impossible, and I look at what I have done and what I am good at, and I try to feel good about it.

Which is not to say that this is easy to do. Sometimes I look at my accomplishments, but I don’t feel good about them. Sometimes I feel good about them, but still feel like the list should be longer. And sometimes I just can’t see them at all. Sometimes I am drowning in depression and just getting my head above the waters to take a breath is more than I can handle. Reminding myself of my awesomeitude is just not in the table at that point.

And you know what? That’s ok. It happens. It would be nice if it didn’t happen and maybe someday I will find a way to make it not happen anymore, but in the meantime it’s a thing I deal with here and there. I can either angst and agonize over the fact that sometimes I feel awful, or I can accept it when I can and leave my energy and attention for other things. So I choose to accept it. I am who I am.

And I am not weak.

And neither are you.

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Shame

creative commons image by marcandrelariviere on flickr

This can be about what it feels like.

I want to talk a bit about shame and how I deal with shame. I grew up with really quite a bit of shame, and it became a rather pervasive part of my life. I felt ashamed of being so different, ashamed of struggling with things other people found easy, ashamed of my shyness, of my awkwardness, of all sorts of things.

Of course, I imagine most everyone grows up with shame. So much of our culture seems to be based on convincing people to be ashamed of something, so we feel shame if we are the wrong size or the wrong shape or the wrong gender or are attracted to the wrong gender or any number of things. Even though none of those things are actually wrong, we are bombarded on all sides with the message that they are. It’s more or less impossible to get away from, and there is plenty of shame to go around for everyone.

For a long time my primary method to deal with shame was to try to “fix” whatever I was ashamed of. I mean, if I feel shame it much be wrong, yes? If I am ashamed of being shy, then I should just stop being shy! Ashamed of being an introvert? Turn into an extrovert! Ashamed of feeling insecure sometimes? Stop feeling insecure!

Of course, not everything that I feel ashamed about can be so easily fixed. I don’t really like being socially awkward, but I can’t just get up some morning and decide I’m not going to be awkward anymore. So instead, I decided to try to hide those things. To just not show my awkwardness, or when I’m feeling insecure, or even that sometimes I have sadfeels.

Unfortunately, I have found that this tactic does not work on two levels. One is that I just can’t always hide things. Sometimes, despite my very best efforts, my insecurity will show. Or my sadfeels. And my awkwardness, well that just shows no matter what. So by trying to always keep my shameful things hidden, I was basically setting myself up for failure.

The other problem is that trying to hide just reinforced my feelings of shame. It’s already not very fun to deal with things like insecurity and sadfeels; piling a bunch of shame on top of them just makes it worse. I bought into that shame, always and entirely. And the shame I felt whenever I failed to properly keep everything hidden and tucked away… well, that was awful.

A few years ago I decided that I was well and truly tired of feeling so much shame so very often. Since the old techniques to deal with the things I was ashamed of were failing rather spectacularly, it was clearly time to try something new.

My something new, that I have been practicing for maybe a couple of years now, is to attack the shamefeelings directly. So instead of trying to stop feeling insecure or trying hide my insecurity, I am trying to not be ashamed of the fact that sometimes I am insecure. Instead, I am trying to own it, the same way I am working to own my good qualities.

For instance, sometimes I get really insecure. That is no fun at all and feels icky. Nonetheless, I am not going to hide it, or apologize for it, or act like it’s wrong that I feel that way. Quite frankly, dealing with the insecurity directly is quite enough for me. I don’t want to deal with all that other stuff too. So instead I have been practicing simply admitting it honestly when it happens, asking for reassurance if I need it, accepting that reassurance at face value, and moving on.

What is still surprising me is just how well this has been working for me. It might still be too soon to tell for sure, but so far there has been significant progress in shedding my shame and leaving it in the past. It is slow going sometimes, and I still sometimes run into the Wall of Shame and need to deal with that, but little by little I am owning myself. ALL of myself. It isn’t easy, by any means. Shame seems to have a way of digging itself into me and grabbing on with hooks. However, it does seem to be possible to shed it, even if just a little bit at a time.

The side effect that I was really not expect but is super nice, though, is the impact this has had on the ooky things themselves. The more I own my insecurity (or whatever else), the more I treat it as just another part of me that sometimes needs to be dealt with rather than as a shameful secret I need to hide, the more secure in myself I feel. Tackling it without all that extra baggage has made it *so much easier* for me to deal with insecurity/etc quickly and easily.

The only real snag I sometimes run into is people who are surprised by my approach. Shame is so pervasive in our society and the push to hide what we are ashamed of is so strong, that people sometimes think that if I am admitting it, I must be in terrible shape. So then I explain all of this and how I am owning it and really, if I ask for a few words of reassurance that is actually all I need. As snags go, I think this one is relatively minor.

Overall, I increasingly think our culture of shame over our differences or perceived imperfections is a significant problem. The only people who seem to benefit from this are people who are trying to sell us things, and unfortunately there are a lot of those people. So, as much as I can, I reject this part of my culture.

Shame does not make me better.

Rejecting shame does.

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Filed under personal, that's not helping

We are not like this

Today I was going to post something light-hearted and silly, but that no longer seems appropriate. As I’m sure you know, on Friday there was a terrible mass shooting at an elementary school in Newton, CT. My heart aches for the victims, for their families, for everyone who was at the school at the time. For everyone who was is or now scared. It’s heart breaking, and the aching and sadness I feel is both overwhelming and hard to express.

As I read the updating news reports, I found myself wondering how long it would take before someone speculated that he had some form of autism, as it seems to be the thing people do now.

Sadly, it did not take very long at all. A snippet from a fox news article:

Ryan Lanza, 24, brother of  gunman Adam Lanza, 20, tells authorities that his younger brother is autistic, or has Asperger syndrome and a “personality disorder.”  Neighbors described the younger man to ABC as “odd” and displaying characteristics associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

And if you’re inclined to dismiss it because it’s coming from fox, I have bad news for you. This particular snippet is being repeated, more or less verbatim, all over the internet, from many different news outlets. I honestly have no idea what the original source was.

Personally, I don’t know if he was autistic or not. I don’t know if he was on the spectrum, or if he had a personality disorder or OCD or anything. Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t. Thing is, though, it does not actually matter if he did or didn’t. It’s irrelevant. The shooter committed a terrible crime, hurting many people. I do not know why he did it, but to blame it on autism is to tar an entire group of largely innocent people.

I have found a number of quotations by people demonizing everyone on the spectrum, or everyone with mental illness. I thought about quoting them here, but honestly, it’s too upsetting for me. Suffice to say there are far too many people claiming that there is a link between autism and violent behavior, and that no one on the spectrum, or with any kind of mental illness, should be allowed access to firearms, that everyone with mental illness should simply be locked away and other such things.

One I will quote came from a supposed expert talking about autism:

Amador, in discussing the possible role of mental illness in this tragedy, pivoted to Lanza’s alleged autism. “With his autism, his roommate Alex Israel mentioned that he chose not to… he preferred to stay alone,” Amador began, referencing an earlier segment with a longtime classmate of Lanza’s. “Well, actually, a symptom of Asperger’s, and this is one report coming out which may or may not be true, is something’s missing in the brain, the capacity for empathy, for social connection, which leaves the person suffering from this condition prone to serious depression and anxiety.”

Here I am, aching for everyone who was hurt by this criminal, and yet here we have people claiming that I cannot experience empathy. I can, and do, experience empathy. I may not experience it the way everyone else does, and I definitely do not express it in the commonly accepted ways, but that does not mean that I lack it entirely. That “something is missing in [my] brain.” To say so is an insult, is wrong, and is entirely inappropriate in the wake of such a tragedy.

A diary of a mom wrote an eloquent post on empathy and autism on Friday morning, and on Friday afternoon wrote another post about what happens when people demonize those on the autism spectrum:

My post this morning about how dangerous it is to allow society to dehumanize our children? To allow the misperception that because they don’t necessarily express empathy in the way that we expect to see it then it must not exist to stand unchallenged?
Here it is, my friends.
This is the result.
Our children — our beautiful, delicious, and yes, challenged children — are something to be afraid of.

The real point I want to make, though, and I really hope I have not taken too long to make it, is that any supposed link between autism and/or mental illness and violence is simply false. It’s terrible misinformation, damaging to everyone (not just us autistic people, I really mean everyone), and it hurts me personally to see it.

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) released a statement on the subject, here is just a snippet:

Autistic Americans and individuals with other disabilities are no more likely to commit violent crime than non-disabled people. In fact, people with disabilities of all kinds, including autism, are vastly more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators.

To back up ASAN, I found a blog post with some stats on crime and mental illness, which again I am not going to quote here as I find them distressing. Still, it is worth a look if you’re interested.

I also found a scholarly study on the topic, which found:

based on the low number of violent patients with Apserger syndrome estimated on the basis of the above studies and the relatively common occurrence of violence in the general population, we do not believe that any true association exists between the two conditions.

Also in the study, the rates of violent behavior they found ranged from only 2.27-5.58% for individuals with Asperger Syndrome. Importantly, the rates for the general population range from 6-7%. Which means if anything, we aspies are LESS likely to be violent than the general population, not more. Yet people continue to perpetuate the idea that people should be scared of us. That we are violent and dangerous and should not be let out in polite society.

Finally, even if we broaden this beyond autism into illnesses that are, in fact, linked to violence, it’s still wrong. Maia Szalavitz put it really well in her article here:

And yet most mentally ill people — even those with conditions that have been linked to violence, such as addictions and schizophrenia — are no threat to anyone other than themselves.

the majority of people with schizophrenia (about 1% of the population) never commit acts of violence.

Schizophrenia doubles your odds of becoming violent, but being a man multiplies your risk by a factor of nine. Yet we don’t stigmatize or reject men for this risk factor; similarly, we shouldn’t treat the mentally ill that way.

No, we really shouldn’t treat the mentally ill that way. Yet all too often, we do.

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Filed under boogeymen, issue