A Blog about Career Changes, Madness, and My Awful Brain

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Deserving Compassion: Why are we always the Exception?

Why is it that we often treat the one person we should love the most, the worst? I'm not talking about our best friends, our wives, or our kids. I'm talking about ourselves, about the voice in your head that wants to make you the exception to every rule.

How often does your inner voice attack you in ways it would never attack other people? When you and your friend both have an exam the next day, how many times have you turned to your friend and told them that they were going to fail because they didn't study enough? When your friend or coworker has to do a presentation at work, how often do you tell them they are stupid for being nervous, and that everyone is going to laugh at them and see how nervous they are? How many times do you say those things to yourself?

Even knowing that fear of public speaking is the greatest fear shared by the largest number of people, you feel you SHOULD be an exception to the rule. Even knowing that most people burnout if they work too much and have too much stress in their work, you feel you SHOULD be the exception to the rule. Even though many people every day deal with mental illness due to a combination of genetics and environmental stimuli, you feel YOU ARE the exception to the rule.

I came face to face with this destructive tendency in myself last Wednesday, when my counselor asked me one simple question.

"Dan, you seem to be a very compassionate person. Why don't you have any compassion for yourself?"

The question knocked me (figuratively) on my ass. The truth is, even though I've accepted that I may be dealing with some PTSD, I'm incapable of accepting that it should have any bearing on what I get done. Before she asked me the question, I had been telling her how silly it was that such a little thing like workplace bullying or an accident should be keeping me from finding a job. I kept insisting that my trauma was such a minor thing, and that I hadn't even been as badly hurt as I could have been. I kept insisting that other people had been through worse than me.

In fact, in a lot of ways, I feel like a complete fake. I feel like I'm using some negative things that happened in my life as a way to tell myself a pretty little story so I don't have to take personal responsibility. Even as I get panicky considering career searching, I tell myself how stupid I'm being, and how lame I am for ever believing that it's because of something as ridiculous as PTSD.

And my counselor listened to all this and told me that maybe I should be more compassionate with myself, like I would be if I had witnessed all the crap that happened to me happen to a friend. Then she told me something that almost left me in tears (almost...remember..I don't cry...the only time it's okay to cry is if you get mauled by a bear...and that's only to lull it into a false sense of your weakness before you uppercut it). She told me that transition periods in a person's life, whether it's work-related or divorce, is extremely difficult and can cause a lot of anxiety and depression in and of itself. Many of her clients visited her for that reason alone. To add a life-threatening accident to the mix was almost unthinkable.

And, kiddies, do you want to know what I, in all my wisdom, told her?

"Well, my accident wasn't really life threatening"

Of course she asked me if I had known that at the time. After I got hit, did I know that? Did I know that when I was laying bleeding on the concrete?

I couldn't answer her. I didn't trust my voice at that moment to tell her the truth. Because I absolutely thought, at the time, that I could die. I kept trying to feel my face, to see how bad I was hurt, and I couldn't move my arm, and I thought I might die. I thought I might die.

And at that point, I was taught an important lesson. I learned that I am a normal person, and as such, deserve compassion. When I get it from others, I should accept it, and I don't need to feel like a fake. More importantly, I deserve it from myself.

I want all of you to learn this too. You are not an exception in the universal human experience. We are all strong, and we are all weak, and you are no different. You deserve respect and dignity, and your inner voice should give it to you. You should never beat yourself up for something that you aren't willing to beat someone else up for. And finally...take it easy on yourself. Life is hard enough, without you making it harder.

And as always, if you need an ear, I am here for you. You are never alone.


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