We all know somebody in our lives who is just not fazed by anything. The words of others do not bother them. Job stress does not bother them. Conflicts with family do not bother them. Small slights with acquaintances do not bother them. Friends failing to invite them to events does not bother them. A messy house does not bother them. Their own perceived shortcomings either don’t seem to be perceived in the first place or they don’t bother them. Physical flaws do not penetrate the barrier they have placed inside their mind. Whether this is a positive coping mechanism or a negative one is up for debate, but I wanted to touch on the power of words, specifically.
I obsess about words. I carefully choose the words I speak in social situations. I carefully choose the words I use in text messages. I carefully choose words in my writing on here. After my words are sent out into the ether, I obsess about them and the impact they potentially have. I do this because I know the impact others’ words have had on me over the years. I know it’s important to let go of the trespasses of others and I understand original intention of words is often not the same as the message I end up interpreting in my head. One of the more unsavory aspects of anxiety and depression is how they morph sensory input. Your brain sees harm, risk, and insult where there is none. Thus, I spend many days reality sorting–that is, sorting out what I can take as truth and what I need to remember is my mind coercing me into a negative state. Further, being prone to rumination makes it easy to obsess about the words and actions of others.
Even so, I wanted to note a few sentences others have said that have never left me and that come up at sometimes unusual and unfortunate times. I would like to be able to let these phrases go that perpetually remind me of my own fragility, but I find the process difficult. How do you let go? Through meditation? Destruction of a symbolic nature? Equal and opposite reaction? Writing the words down, thus expelling them from your mind? Hurting somebody else instead? This is an answer I do not have. Some of these relate to being a woman, a subject I want to touch on at some point, but which is not the express purpose of this particular post. I want to just note that I’m somewhat paraphrasing these quotes, but the essence of what was said is the same. Some of these quotes are from 10+ years ago and I don’t remember exact wording.
Fellow teacher trainee from my yoga teacher training when I came to her for support as I was trying to get off of my anti-depressants while maintaining my mental health:
“People who are depressed are inherently selfish.”
One of my favorite nursing school instructors, teaching us about mental health nursing:
“People who self-harm will always engage in self-injurious behavior. They will likely self-harm in some way their entire lives.”
Classmate in high school who I considered to be a friend of mine:
“You have a body made for fucking.”
Friend from college:
“If I told my dad I was dating a girl who had scars from cutting, he would tell me to run.”
Gentleman (I use this term loosely) I dated casually:
“You’re not fat, but you’re not really skinny.”
“You keep your body in pretty good shape for your age. You’re very muscular. But it would be more impressive if you were in your 30’s, because a lot of women stop maintaining their bodies then.”
(After he video taped us having sex without asking my permission) “I would never sleep with a fat woman, but a lot of my friends have and they say it’s great because they actually move during sex. I know what they mean now. You’re not fat, but you move like somebody who is fat.”
Boyfriend from college who I dated for a year when we were breaking up:
“I never loved you.”
Boyfriend from nursing school who I thought I was going to marry after I asked him if our relationship mattered to him:
“I don’t know.”
Friend from North Carolina after we got into a tiff:
“You take everything personally. Nothing is a safe topic with you.”
My first boyfriend when I told him I had been cutting:
“That’s really fucked up. You need to get help.”
Nursing school classmates talking about how many people they’d slept with after our male classmate noted he’d slept with eight or nine people (I’ve slept with more):
“That’s so many people. What a slut!”
These messages have stuck with me and I think why they remain in my mind so many years later is because they highlight my deepest insecurities. The quotes from former boyfriends exemplify a lack of support, love, and intimacy. I fear these elements being absent from a relationship and they are what I most crave and search for in another human being. For these elements to be missing from relationships with some of the most important people in my life crushes me.
The commentary about mental health is frightening to me. I don’t want to be perceived as selfish and to be honest, I don’t want to be a burden to anybody because I am so consumed with the symptoms in my mind. I don’t want to consume somebody else’s life because of my mental illness. I also fear I will never go into a remission with my illness and likely will never be cured. The quote from my professor was especially upsetting. At that point, I hadn’t really cut in years. I think four or five at that point? In my mind, it was almost as if she was saying, “You will never escape this because the potential is always there.” Even though I felt, at the time, it was a success to be free from cutting for years, it made me feel vulnerable to my own impulses.
The commentary from friends/lovers about my body and sex exacerbated my already tempestuous sense of self-worth. It made me feel like people could comment on the choices I make with my body without my permission. They could invade my clothing, my sense of self, the health of my flesh and pass judgment. It expressed non-acceptance of my body, something that though I wish to sometimes, I cannot escape. It made me feel trapped in a society where I am subjected to invasion of the self, not just through media, but everybody around me. It made me feel unsafe.
I want to let go. If anybody else experiences these profound effects from things people have said to you over the years, I’d love to hear how you’ve dealt with it. How do you keep yourself safe and whole in a world that seeks to fragment?