A friend messaged me the other day to chastise me for not turning to them for help when my ex-housemate robbed me of a bunch of stuff, including my entire month’s SNAP allocation. My immediate response was to send a return message apologizing and explaining … but then I stopped, and I understood:
I have nothing to apologize for.
My anxiety and depression are not my fault. I did not seek them out. I did not do things knowing that mental health problems could result. I just lived my life the best I knew how, yet found myself growing more and more unhealthy as the years passed and my anxiety went untreated. Hell, I didn’t even recognize anxiety as an issue until a few months ago.
I learned to hate myself when I was in elementary school. I was lonely; I had nothing special about myself. My parents loved me but were not good at parenting. By the time I got to my teens, I was getting worse; unfortunately, it got papered over by a conversion to Christianity when I was 15. That did not go well; the message that I was good only for eternal damnation told my brain that God approved of my self-loathing. The idea that I was “saved” by grace pushed what I really felt about myself down so deep it took decades to re-emerge.
Of course, it did not re-emerge until my brain was too unhealthy to deal well with a spouse, children, or life in general. Finally, in 2018, I hit rock-bottom. I had a “meltdown” at a Multnomah County Dems meeting, triggered by an act of bad faith from a number of people. From there, I pretty much gave up on even trying. I did get into weekly therapy for a time, but not only was I seeing the wrong counselor (for me, that is; they were fine otherwise) but the whole thing became a clusterfuck when Providence screwed up my billing and ended my coverage without warning.
In short, seeds of mental unhealthiness were planted in me when I was a child, they were nourished for decades, and they brought forth their fruit when I grew incapable of even understanding what the hell was going on.
What, then, should I have been apologizing for?
I love this friend and their family. They have shown me wonderful care through the years. I love that they are hurt that I did not turn to them. Those hurt feelings make me extraordinarily happy: not because I wanted to hurt them, of course, but because they stopped me short and forced me to realize, and accept, the reality of their friendship and love.
There are many people who care about me, but it’s been almost impossible for me to acknowledge that. To admit that people care about me to the extent that they do is something my unhealthy brain cannot do. My brain’s narrative is about how I am a shitty person, how people want to laugh at me, that my life is a thing of shame. But this latest incident, and the response of people to it, is forcing me to confront more directly how my mental unhealthiness is structured.
My task now is to refuse the old self-hating narrative and to retrain my mind using the techniques of mindfulness and meditation. I know that my brain’s narrative is just a construct, that it has no intrinsic truth, and that my reality is whatever I can build for myself.
And I think what I will be building will be something new, frightening, and exciting:
A world where friends actually do care about me. A lot.