telling the story: no denying {day 15}

15 Oct

{This post, like others to follow, relates to mental illness and suicide. If these things are a trigger for you, please read with care.}

There is no denying it anymore. It is no mistake that I am here.

There is a handbook in my room that details everything about the ward. The difference between a Category 1 and a Category 4, as if we are hurricanes to be classified. That our food intake will be checked and given a percentage to see how much we are eating. (I receive a 20% at lunch, even though that 20% later comes back up.) That we are encouraged to “participate in our treatment” and that the doctors will consider this information when deciding when we are well enough to go home.

They make an announcement over the intercom that invites us to therapy group with the social worker, and I close my door and go. I carry with me a notebook, a pen to take notes. I am a model student.

I am supposed to be writing a 20-page take-home exam this spring break. There are case studies to write about the intersections of racial identity and Christian theology. This is what I should be doing.

But I am here. The twentysomething social worker gathers us around a table and passes out worksheets to us. On them, a cartoon girl is surrounded by a bunch of balloons. Enough balloons, it seems, that she should be propelled into the air, flown halfway across the world like the old man in Up.

“Sometimes our thoughts can be really harmful to us,” the social worker lectures. “We think one thing, and then it leads us along a path. It triggers another thought and another thought, and then we find ourselves anxious or depressed again.”

I listen, the perfect student. I take notes on the back of the worksheet she has passed out.

“A lot of times, one thing that can trigger us automatically is the thought that we should be a certain way or should do a certain thing. So fill in these balloons with your ‘I Should’ statements, and then we’ll talk together.”

Even in the psych ward, I convince myself like I have convinced myself before: There is nothing wrong. This is normal. Everyone thinks like this. This is a mistake. It is a cliche, the stuff of a hundred Lifetime movies about alcoholism, abuse, anorexia and bulimia. It is a cliche, and it is a lie, but you would stake your life on it.

I turn to the cartoon girl and her balloons.

In the first balloon, without thinking, I write, I should do everything perfectly the first time without help.

In the second, I write, I should be able to make the people around me happy.

In the third, I write, I should know what to do for my friends and my husband before they ask.

I stop. I look at the balloons, the girl who should be carried away to South America. I read what I’ve written, and I laugh because it is so clear.

I am absolutely, positively crazy.

We read aloud the contents of our balloons. The contents are laughably similar: perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect student, perfect employee. Perfection. As if juicy chicken, flawless grammar, Pinterest-perfect parties, beautiful sentences, wonderful performance evaluations are worth a human life. We are people whose minds demand perfection in our tasks, a perfection that cripples us so that we can do no tasks at all.

Anxiety is anything but creative. It turns us cliche. Me, the men and women around the table, with our shoulds and our perfects. We try, we strive, we go to bed because the pressure is too much. We kill ourselves to be perfect, the thing that nearly no one wants of us. It is So Serious, as if the world depends on our juicy chicken and winning presentations and mindblowing sex.

I laugh, and it feels like something is lifted. I laugh at the shoulds, at the balloons that might have carried me away. I laugh at the idea that I could have ever thought this was normal. This is crazy, I think. I am crazy. And I  feel a release.

I laugh, and I shiver at this grace: that gravity has held me to the ground.

This post is part of a series, 31 Days of Healing. Check out Day 1 or the complete list of posts. If you want to follow along, you can also subscribe by email or subscribe in a feed reader. Or “like” the blog on Facebook. (We’re all about options here.) And thanks for reading!

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2 Responses to “telling the story: no denying {day 15}”

  1. Ashleigh October 16, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    Oh Christina. I wish we could have talked together during this time in your life. Although I’m not sure if two “crazies” could have helped each other out or not. I have been told so many times to stop “should-ng” myself to death.

    “Anxiety is anything but creative. It turns us cliche. Me, the men and women around the table, with our shoulds and our perfects. We try, we strive, we go to bed because the pressure is too much. We kill ourselves to be perfect, the thing that nearly no one wants of us. It is So Serious, as if the world depends on our juicy chicken and winning presentations and mindblowing sex.” And this is so true.I may have to steal it sometime.

    • Christina October 20, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

      Ashleigh,
      You are sweet, and I’m so glad that I’m not the only one to feel this way. It’s sad, the way that smart, capable women can feel the smallest and be the hardest on ourselves. And sad that when we look at each other, we don’t ever feel like the other women could possibly have the same anxieties and hangups as us. My friends have told me that, too, about the “shoulds” and how they will kill my soul. Thanks for the kindness, friend, for being open, and for reading and sharing this little series!

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