I believe there are three things that can undo all your work. Or hold you back, no matter how much work you put into your recovery. I believe them to be sins. Not sins against a deity, but rather sins against yourself. I don’t know a better word for them.
I believe there are Three Sins of Life.
They sound harsh, but they hold a lot of people back. And I think they’re particularly dangerous because of how ingrained or automatic they become. How easily they can worm into your brain and stop your heart from wanting a better life. They are dangerous, because we ourselves and our society are dangerous.
But if you spot them now, you can keep making forward progress in the future. It sounds so simple, right?
It took me months of abuse and uncertainty, and then months of recovery to finally identify this philosophy. I was first able to put the three sins of life into words in my book Queens Wear Heavy Crowns, and it was hard and painful and I felt every level of guilt. But it’s worth going through that to get to where you can be.
Self Pity is when you allow yourself to stay in one place. I believe the Self Pity that grows inside the chronically sad or ill is different than the phrase’s natural connotation. It’s not a conscious action or thought. The sick don’t feel bad for themselves because they feel bad, but rather because it won’t go away. The sad don’t pity themselves for feeling bad, but rather because of the fact that it never ends. The chronically sad and ill know what pain and pushing through mean. The Self Pity I’m talking of here is when people stop looking for options or coping mechanisms because it’s never helped in the past.
That mindset is so easy to fall into. Because the pain has always been there, so how can something different help? How can a diagnosis or a new drug stop something that you’ve known for so long? I, of course, can’t say that it will, but I think when you get to that point, things become very dangerous very fast. It’s a form of giving up, and that leads to disaster. Self Pity is not a decision but rather a result of too much pain in one body, and then you’ll begin slipping and it becomes really hard to keep going in any capacity. Then you start Doubting everything, but most tragically, yourself.
Self Doubt is when you limit yourself because of an arbitrary negative image you have of your own skills, body, or mind. It is present in all walks of life and in all situations. Women are taught to doubt their physical abilities. Artists and writers are taught to doubt their sanity. Doubt is present in every community and every society because we’ve created it.
But the more dangerous kind of Doubt is your own Doubt. It can break your entire foundation and shunt any further growth at the same time. Doubt leaks into your veins until it’s rushing through your entire person. Then you start to wonder if you really do feel as bad as you think you do. Or you think about everyone else who has it worse than you, and what do you have to complain about? Or knowing that people believe depression is the result of blasphemy or doctors who don’t believe in chronic illnesses. The second sin follows quickly after those questions start.
Willful Ignorance is fighting against knowing the truth. Ignoring the reality that’s right in front of you. I started to violently rebel against the idea of having depression or PTSD or anything. I begged the world to let me be free. I didn’t want to be damaged or insane or special. I didn’t want to take drugs and go to therapy. I hated the idea of having to acknowledge the pain that I stretched out for longer than it needed to be.
So I lied. I told myself and everyone else that I was just really tired all the time. I smiled when I could and made myself eat dinner with friends. But every night I’d return to the apathetic frustration and the sting of tears that just. Won’t. Fall. To give me some form of release. My grades started to slip and I knew everything was wrong. My family was concerned and my health was failing as I lost more and more weight and more and more energy. But I thought it was better than admitting defeat, so I continued to ignore the possibilities. Convinced myself on some level that it was just a phase. And then after a while, I didn’t care anymore.
But through luck or strength or necessity, whatever you want it to be, I got to the doctor’s. For the last couple years I’ve been on antidepressants and have just finished trauma therapy. Then I started to write a book, I found it a great outlet for all the confusion in my head, and I realized what had happened. I had sinned. I avoided things I knew, and believed falsities. It’s hard to see in the moment, of course. But there are those times where the comprehension is inside of you. Fighting to be heard, and you exhaust yourself trying to ignore it. For the sake of peace. For the sake of sanity.
That’s when everything goes wrong. Self Pity, Self Doubt and Willful Ignorance, they’re all so tied up within each other that it can happen too fast. They are neither causes nor symptoms. They are the worst of us all, dragging us back to the path of easy decisions and hushed thoughts.
How do you avoid it? I can’t say that you can, but I know how you can fight it. I try to keep these three steps in mind as I battle with my newly diagnosed chronic illness.
The first step is Self Acceptance. Maybe you won’t love yourself, though I hope one day you do, but you must at least accept yourself. Know that your thoughts aren’t lies. That your pain is real and so is your need for help. Come to terms with the fact that you’re not comfortable with what’s going on. At this point, no action is needed. Just take the time to stop and think. Reflection is what saves the mind from itself. If you don’t stop and think about the tangling thoughts in your head, you can never find the problem. So just accept that you have thoughts. That you have pain. And that they are all real. And know that I believe you.
The second step is Self Analysis. Now you can take that acceptance and wrap up in it, and take the plunge into the truth. Take stock of what hurts, and how, and when. Identify self destructive habits and the fears you have of facing them. Understand that you can barely walk from pain sometimes because your hip doesn’t work, or understand that you can’t keep up in life, work, or classes because of the massive weight of apathy in your head and your heart. Let yourself feel how bad you know you feel, instead of trying to run away from it. Then you will begin to understand why you feel so bad. I’m not saying you’ll suddenly understand you have depression or fibromyalgia, but you’ll be able to see all the components that are leading up to your constant pain. Then you can begin to fight it.
The third step is Self Motivation. By far the hardest step in this process and I believe in life. It doesn’t just happen, even though healthy people seem to have it effortlessly. Mental and physical pain can and will take away your full comprehension of consequences. The apathetic buzz or the frantic desire to be asleep can numb responsibilities. Your body can only take so much, and homework, work, and socializing are not your heath’s top priorities.
I found it in rare moments of strength or lucidness. The first time I went to the doctor, I was a mess, but I got there. I was crying and stumbling and I freaked the doctor out. But as I was talking with him I started to feel a deeper stability. He didn’t seem upset at all. If anything he held respect for me. So I took advantage of that conversation and I had him schedule a follow up appointment right then and there. Then I texted my boyfriend of the scheduled day. I hoped that they would both be enough to get me back in the examination room. Self-Motivation is cultured. It takes a long time and a lot of treatment in some cases. I used friends and rewards to get me going. My boyfriend would help me into the car, even if I was sobbing and screaming. And I would make myself a nice cup of cocoa when I got back and allow myself to do nothing but play with my stuffed animals and watch movies. It also took a huge amount of determination and strength and defiance and so many other things.
Routine is huge. I started to create very elaborate coping mechanisms to keep myself going. Like long recuperations after events or frostees for going to class. I would tell every success to my boyfriend and I got hooked on that expression of pride on his face and the respect in his eyes. I think that’s when I started to feel I had genuine Self Motivation. When I was quasi excited for the next drug trial, to see if I could make my parents proud and give a good example to my sister.
The key is to keep going. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. Chronic sadness and illness are often a fight for your life. That life is so precious and worth it, but the energy needed to physically get there is relapse inducing. My advice? Don’t hold back for anything. You’re fighting for your continued existence either mentally, physically, or spiritually. If you have to crawl through the parking lot to get to the doors, then do it. If you’re crying and you can’t speak at check in or on a call, or when confiding in a friend, it doesn’t matter. They’ll wait. Because they’ll all see that fight inside you. They won’t be able to look into your eyes with anything other than awe. They’ll see your muscles pushing harder than their own ever have, as you stumble to safety and help. Anyone who sees differently is a fool. And I’d rather fight for my survival than live a fool.
I think there’s a beauty in the reflection of these three sins and these three strengths. They seem more than words to me and more than just a way of life. To me they are the reflection of life. The constant battle between health and horror. There is no one who won’t understand that. Your tears or pain may make them uncomfortable, but only because they don’t want that truth. Your sickness may make them stare, but only out of the fear of what you represent. You and I, we all represent strength. And tenacity. And unbelievable awareness. So stop thinking about them, this life is for you.
So try to think on yourself. Try to catch any sins that can leak through the cracks. Try and do not be ashamed if you fail. Continuing after a failure only makes you stronger after all. Try to remember that doubt is a pressure from others, but it is brought upon yourself, and it can undo you. But knowing and accepting yourself can hold doubt at bay. Just listen to what’s true and keep going. I believe you. And I respect you. And I know that you can make it through. Because we know what life is worth.