Total Honesty as a Learning Path!

Taking responsibility is usually quite easy, but on occasion we act out of turn and do something totally out of character  This might be saying something hurtful and totally unreasonable, or acting in an unacceptable way. Luckily this is fairly rare for me, however I do feel it happens often enough (maybe once every 2 months) that I need to do something about it.

After such an event, the ego can start a protective game of itself, that can block genuine growth, and also the corrective actions needed to rectify the issue.

I am usually polite to people, and I’m usually a naturally kind person. Not kind in a rescuing way, or a needy way (those days have past).

[My self-compassion is saying, forgive yourself but still take full responsibility.]

The latest example is this: I spoke to someone from a local organisation some months ago. At this time they had promised me some support for our organisation. I left about one voicemail every couple of weeks, and even phoned their reception a couple of times. However nothing happened. Flash back to now. The other background info is that this previous week I’ve been racing about and I have forgotten to take my Citalopram (SSRI) for quite a few days. I’ve maybe taken it twice in one week.

I also seem to be in a manic phase. My mind is highly focused, very enthusiastic, and I feel unstoppable with my ideas, and my ability to complete tasks. My body is very tired, but my mind is overriding the signals. With physical exhaustion comes emotional sensitivity. So add that to the lack of medication and racing mind and we have a recipe for disaster. I’ve been helping a friend with the death of one of their parents. That has been very emotional. In a good way, as it’s good to miss someone. However this has also added to my emotional sensitivity.

It was 5.30am or so when I woke up, after having worked on MEN HEAL and funeral type tasks all day until 1.30am. I was feeling quite low, and very tired. My mind was racing. I was wanting success as I was too ill after a breakdown some months ago to achieve what I wanted to achieve. It’s almost like I overcompensate for my down times, after said down times. I was thinking how someone from the local organisation I mentioned had let me down. I really thought that this was intentional, and they and their organisation were against me. I also felt another couple of people had been letting me down and thinking badly of me.

The problem is that I’ve done CBT and mindfulness quite extensively. These normally work brilliantly when I’m in a better state. Normally I can catch a negative or irrational thought, and either let it wash over me and refocus on the present (mindfulness) or challenge the thought and look for evidence of it being true (CBT). When I’m far too irrational and my mind is racing, CBT doesn’t work, because if I challenge the thought, my brain just KNOWS it’s true, and it can’t find any evidence to successfully challenge the thought. The thought starts building and feeding on itself. All my trusty coping strategies fall by the wayside. All the ingredients are their for a situation where I snowball out of control.

This bit sounds petty, and my ego would rather justify what I did, or somehow ‘forget’ what happened and quickly move on. However this is where the title of this article comes in: Total Honesty as a Learning Path! It’s times like this where if we can stop our ego skipping over the problem, we can learn a lot. Anyway, I tweeted a couple of really negative comments about the local organisation and the person who works there. I was feeling totally rejected and slighted, and it felt justified to challenge them. It even felt reasonable to do so publicly. My usual good judgement and kindness had gone! In this moment it felt justified. My ego was protecting itself. ‘I’ was protecting my self-worth. This person was an enemy according to my ego.

Lesson Learned?

The person challenged me in a message, and I soon realised I was in the wrong. The ‘facts’ about being intentionally slighted came crashing down! Instead of feeling like a white knight defending what was right, I was now the enemy who was attacking the white knight. How quickly we had been switched! The ego doesn’t like this truth. It panics. Luckily I’m at least at a stage where if someone calls me out, I can drop my ego’s tantrum and apologise pretty sharpish and try to undo my bad words (in this case with a public apology on both Twitter and Facebook).

My concern is whether this is related to my mental health or not. If it is a mental health issue, then I’m worried it’s something that is frowned upon like Borderline Personality Disorder or something like that. It is hard to diagnose oneself of course, so I don’t know. The stigma surrounding some mental health conditions makes me want to run even further away from the metaphorical scene of the crime. Indeed this brings up another topic, when is something I say or do, that is negative, ‘me’ doing it, and when is it my mental health issue? If it was ‘me’ then it feels like it would be easier to fix the problem. I should have more freewill to control the behaviour or fix it. Currently it feels like I can’t stop it. I’ve tried for so many decades, so in this way I could consider it a mental health condition.

I’ve tried slowing down during my manic episodes, and it is immensely hard. Well to be fair, I’ve never managed to slow them down. My concern is if I do have bipolar disorder then SSRIs are supposed to make the manic episodes worse. It’s at times like this where it would be amazing to have the world’s top psychiatrist / psychologist helping me out. Even though I know a lot about mental health, it’s hard to diagnose myself. I have done a lot of work on myself and got a lot ironed out, and I’ve improved a lot as a person. However these times where I become super-sensitive and feel victimised do still occur, even with all the work I’ve done. I just haven’t been able to get a handle on these states, even with all the mindfulness, and CBT, and other coping strategies.

This is where I feel deflated further. One of these episodes has occurred again! A minor one, yes, but I feel foolish. I lashed out with poisoned words. I wonder if it’s down to trust, as I rarely do this with people I know very well. If I trust someone with my heart 100%, the negative thoughts don’t occur as there is no doubt that that person genuinely cares. The negative thoughts, and the tornado that follows, is usually with people I don’t know that well or don’t trust with my heart 100%. A seed of doubt is what grows in to something bigger. In a stabilised state, I can catch these thoughts, like I already mentioned, and all is ok. However at times like early this morning, the tornado of irrationality feeds on itself, growing ever larger, until I am certainly not in Kansas any more, and I’m under the spell of the Wicked Witch of the West / East.

I feel I’ve learned to apologise sooner, and also learned to take full responsibility. However I still haven’t learned how to overcome these issues. I have tried so many techniques. I think this is when it’s easy to feel like a failure. I also fear people giving me more advice on how to deal with it. Just… do this, or just do that. This makes me feel even more stupid. Partly because I might have already tried their suggestion and it failed, or I haven’t tried their suggestion so feel I didn’t try hard enough to solve the problem.

So I’m left feeling I still have this problem. Another thing I’ve learned from a great one year mindfulness course I did, was to utilise compassion, for everyone including myself. So I was as kind as I could be to the person concerned with my apology, and but I was also compassionate to myself. Or at least I need to start doing so.

Self-compassion isn’t about excusing myself. Although I do feel these behaviours are beyond my control. Self-compassion is about stopping the self-persecution after the event. It’s good to feel some guilt and to feel a bit down about a negative action, as it’s our brains way of saying we need to apologise or make good. However with some of us, our minds can go too far with these feelings of guilt, and instead it turns in to high levels of self-persecution.

My self-compassion is saying, forgive yourself but still take full responsibility.

I’ve tried to be totally honest with this article because I think it’s important for people to see what I’m going through. It will hopefully break down stigma and educate people that it’s ok to talk about mental health issues and the human condition and all that comes with it.

Transcending our ego enough so we can learn from our mistakes is also key.

It has felt raw to expose my foolishness. I’m supposed to be running a mental health organisation. People might criticise my ability to do so if I occasionally have problems. However I am trying to set an example that people with mental health issues CAN run organisations, and they can be at fault and make mistakes. As long as people take full responsibility for their actions and try and rectify any problems I feel it’s ok. Some people will say I shouldn’t be running an organisation like this at all.

However our ethos is that we are a mental health organisation run by people with mental health issues for people with mental health issues. The negatives might be apparent, but we all have to work together as a team so that we are greater than the sum our our parts, or indeed our mental health conditions! I want this organisation to be led by a group of us, that way we will all play to our strengths.

Mike Y

Copyright MEN HEAL 2015

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