The Challenges of Change

I’ve been working on change lately. I thought I’d been giving it a pretty good go for years – I’ve been through so many, countless programs and therapists. But real change, in the real world, I’m learning, is a lot harder, and involves some very different strengths, tools, and tactics, than I realized.

I think the two hardest things about trying to change, about trying to “recover,” about trying to implement new ways to cope with a turbulent, punitive, and self-hating mind are this:

  • Realizing you’ve wasted too many years blaming others, “bad treatment,” the media, or social injustice for your dysfunctional coping mechanisms, you have to pause, look in the mirror, and see the reality of your very flawed – and rather ugly – soul, character, and life journey staring back.
  • Not knowing whether any healthy coping aid can make living with the permanent, irreversible consequences and pain of all the bad decisions you’ve made tolerable: All the wrecked relationships; your permanent unhire-ability; a prematurely old body (particularly those bones); that you’ll never have a significant other much less children, and you’re now even a banished aunt; the heavy and costly burden you’ve been to others; and the thousands of hours of your short life you’ve inexcusably wasted.

And you’re trying to do this when you’re just so fu—ing exhausted – from so many years of pain, of fighting a mind that constantly attacks itself. And, in my case, additionally exhausted from decades of malnourishment and the physical and psychological impairments resulting from – nearly one year ago – jumping off my apartment roof*.

And that last thing – that suicide attempt – has only added more deceptively-thin but unyielding filaments to the web of interior confusion, pain, tumult and questioning which underlie my dysfunctional coping mechanisms in the first place. Now, the why-am-I-like-this puzzle is even more complicated – possibly impossible – to solve. My mind is such a labyrinth of issue building upon issue, of experience building upon experience, that the only possible end seems the Minotaur.

Each time I have even one tiny victory – one imperceptible (to others) movement toward change – and manage (as I must, because the OCD calls) drag myself out of bed the following morning, I feel as though my body, mind and spirit have emerged from some kind of grueling, Herculean battle with Greek gods throwing emotional and cognitive lightening bolts at each other for days. And I’m once again sitting amid the embers, attempting to recuperate, haul myself up, and return to my troop. But more and more these days I don’t seem able to recover from the battle wounds. Each sortie takes a little more spirit and life out of me, knocks another chip out of my soul – a chip that vaporizes instantly and never comes back.

And as the saying goes, I’m just so tired of being tired.

Here’s one thing that’s so bizarre about my life now: I look at people performing the most routine of daily functions – showing up at work at 9 a.m. and leaving at five; walking down the hall with
*That suicide attempt bears an important reminder, readers: If you’re thinking about – or ever do – taking your life, please consider that if you survive, your life and your relationships will only be exponentially more fu—ed up than before. So in other words: Don’t do it. Not that I’m, obviously, the best role model on this topic – but please, ride the urge out. 

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8 comments

  1. Sarah says:

    Oh Jeanene. Thank you for sharing your struggle so honestly, so beautifully. I know first hand that self-forgiveness and change are possible, and that something like transcendence can happen when we let go of all the inner battles. I also know that change is so, so hard– there is so much difficulty and pain involved. My dream for you is that you find the joy and peace that’s under all the struggle. I do believe some people are the sensitive ones– and that living in this world can be brutal for them. But those sensitive, creative souls carry important messages for everyone else about life and the world we’re creating. They cannot live ‘usual’ 9-5 lives (which, I have to say, sounds pretty horrible to me!). But hopefully they can carve out a small corner of beauty and safety where they can sing their songs. That is my hope for you. xo

  2. LaDonna says:

    Jeanene,

    Thank you for sharing this. I can relate to so much. As I was reading, I kept remembering the quote from Einstein that goes:
    “You can’t solve a problem with trhe same thinking that created it. ” I guess what I see is the depressive monster who beats you up and torments you each day, is the one trying to “will” you to change.During my last relapse, I remember suddenly realizing one day, that I could not “hate” myself out of my self-hatred. That trying to whip myself into the person I wanted to be, was just creating more shame and feelings of worthlessness. I was not ready to try on self-“love” or even compassion, so I started by just trying to be more tolerant. A therapist I was working with,asked me to imagine how I might respond to someone else if they were struggling with my problems. Would I yell at them? Call them stupid?Tell them what a waste they were? The answer was no. I would never treat someone else like that – even if I didn’t like them. So why did I feel it was o.k. to treat myself like this?

    Our fast-paced, overly competitive, do-anything culture, teaches us that we shouuld only value ourselves by our accomplishments. It can be hard to maintain the perspective that you are worthy and valuable, when your abilty to “produce” has been thwarted by illness or other unexpected stresses. In my own life currently, I am struggling with severe energy depletion after years of severe stress. For me a good day looks like getting up in the morning to feed the stray cats whio live on my property, reading or surfing the internet, and maybe going out for an errand or an appointment. Usually that completely wipes me out, and I have to spend the rest of the day just recuperating. I am learning there is great value, in being still. I am able to process and understand things on a much deeper level. I am able to be more present and attentive in my interactions. My personal feeling is that real change requires stillness and compassion and empathy for our own challenges. No one else could handle the struggles you have had Jeanene, any better than you are doing right now. I hope one day you can see yourself for the amazing survivor that you are.

  3. Julie Greene says:

    Dear Jeanene, I highly respect you both as a writer and a human being. That’s why I read and share your stuff. When you say “blame,” I say the following: Who is really blaming? Psych care itself (which has infiltrated the public and the media) imposes blame on its ever-growing patient population when it claims we have “poor coping skills.” I felt so liberated when I figured out that most of us do not cope poorly. In fact, we are doing everything we can to stay afloat in an extremely cruel and hostile world. Every time they claimed we were poor at coping I realized what an insult it was, and a lie. I realized there was another side to the story altogether.

    I tried to comment on earlier posts but my comment didn’t go through. But I am still very much a fan.

  4. Beth Kinne says:

    j-
    I have been where you are. I tried to take my life and ended up on life support. The first year, the anniversary, I felt RAW. It was terrible. I found that as time passes things get easier. Not perfect by any means. I am a depressive and sometimes feel as if I am living my life in quicksand, all the way up to the part in my hair. But, even if I can’t work, or feel overwhelmed by something as simple as grocery shopping and having to leave a full cart mid-aisle to get to my car…I can appreciate the softness of my pillow, my dog’s cold muzzle waking me up, how lush and green everything looks in summer outside my window. Small, close things. You will never be able to change the past and projecting what you “should” do in the future is futile. Look outside, have a glass of ice water, are you warm? That’s a start. I’m pulling for you and I care.

  5. Charlotte says:

    Hi Jeanne, This is a great post. Thank you. I have read your words for awhile now and my heart goes out to you over and over. I suffer with some of the maladies you do. Recently I decided to give up hope. I didn’t decide to take my own life. I just decided to actually do the excruciating work of letting go. Wow! Is it difficult! I meditate twice a day if possible. I inhale “let”, exhale “go”. It’s hard! But, I’m going to keep doing it.

    I’ll let you know what happens.

    Hang on, my friend. You are an inspiration.

    Love,
    Charlotte

  6. Fiona says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your painful journey. I relate SO MUCH. AT nearly 39, I have not even achieved the milestones most 18 year olds take for granted. I look back and see a wasteland of wasted life. I look forward and see very few prospects, unless I change BIG TIME, and soon, and my ability to change – I doubt that a lot. It takes a lot of courage and strength, and pushing through agony. I Hope I can find that in myself. I am inspired that you have/are.

    Back as a child/teen, my hopes and dreams were so different. To be a dancer, a vet, a librarian, or a biochemist. To live an exciting life, having the best of everything, I’d be well off (rather than always poor as we were), famous (or at least renowned for my achievements), happy, successful, beautiful, stylish, blah blah blah.

    Now, my dreams are just to have a JOB, a FAMILY, a stable HOME. For my life to have meant something. And for the possibility that maybe I can even put my own experiences to use in helping others as a psychologist, some day. It’s frightening to think that my own ED and other mental illnesses, and the physical consequences of a lifetime of ED, make it so, so hard to achieve all that.

    I know it is possible. I see people I spent ~10-15 years in and out of hospital with (those who lived) getting better and living normal lives. If they can, so can we. I hope you keep updating us with your progress. I’m sorry it sounds like so many people have cut you out of their lives – you never asked to have a mental illness. People need to realise that the brain is an organ like any other – and it can get sick. It’s not something we have a choice about just because the brain is the centre of who we are. We can choose to fight our illness and try and recover, but it’s not something we do to be evil or a spoilt brat or difficult or whatever. So much needs to change in the world with acceptance and understanding and less stigma towards those with mental illness.

    All the best.

  7. LaDonna says:

    this is a true story from last week:

    I woke up full of hatred this morning, and it took a while for me to get outside and feed the kiities.When I was sitting there, I noticed a highway of ants carrying bits of leaves to their home. One ant got my attention because it was carrying a much larger load than the others. He would plod along with his big leaf, kind of wobbly and stumbling as many other ants just whizzed on by. Sometimes he would get a bit off track or need to pause to regain his footing – but he never stopped.

    Lesson learned: those who have a heavier burden, are naturally going to move slower and stumble more.

    Take away: Stop shaming myself for what I haven’t achieved,

  8. Gail says:

    Hey Jeanene I meant to give a proper reply a long while ago, but alas the dissociation time warp. I hear you about being tired, you have every reason to be deeply exhausted and your battle has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. What you do everyday IS work, not a failure to be working. And to be honest I think you are one of the most sane people on this planet, I think you are having an honest emotional reaction to a terribly insane and often overall cold world. I have read every word on your website because your voice is unique, smart, and valuable and so are you. You help me feel less alone and traumatized and are able to write about yourself and the world in a way that makes a lot of sense to me. I think you are spot on, and that is why you are ignored by those in power, is because what you have to say shatters their dissociated fantasy world where individuals are the problem, which is seeped in sick capitalist/ableist values. What you have to say threatens to surface some deeply buried sh*t that a lot of people have that they don’t want to uncover. It is extremely painful, tiring, and confusing, to realize that the narrative we were given about about ourselves, the world, and how to deal with those things was largely intellectually dishonest. The powers that be could learn a thing or two from your site’s meticulous journalistic integrity. After my own attempt, I felt a deep tiredness and a sense of rock bottom, and severe alienation from everyone and everything, but something changed inside me. Something inside me woke up and started to feel motivation to depart from the old narratives, even though I had no idea how and was battling quite some ugly bulimia mixed with other behaviors. I thought something about this situation can’t be right. There has to be another way to live other than force myself to be in this story where I’m chronically mentally ill and I need to “cope better” to get back to society’s expectations. It’s been almost four years since that time, 3 off psych drugs and I’m still in the middle of coming out of the deep disability and damage that that time held… But the inner birth of an honest and individual sense of self that your eating disorder was likely trying to protect this whole time is still there and will come out. I have also given up on being traditionally “successful” and will be living very cheaply, likely never marrying and definitely no kids or “career” or whatever. I hope to buy an RV and live away from civilization along the west coast with a friend/partner, maybe clean houses or walk dogs for a living who knows I don’t even care any more. I realized all I want, like you, is a roof over my head and food in my stomach and people to exchange kindness with. The cultural narratives (“working, marriage, kids”) now feel hollow and pointless to me but what feels real is your writing and what you are talking about. It is a grieving process to re-orient one’s life away from the goals we were told to try to get back to as soon as possible post-discharge from treatment. For me the ED was trying to tell me that those goals were never right for me in the first place. I believe your life is not hopeless and I desperately wish you can have the rest, self-care and moments of peace that you deserve. I am very glad you are on this earth and I hope to meet you some day. Thank you for being a voice of honesty and vulnerability in a deeply emotionally and intellectually dishonest world. All your anger, despair and grief is valid and part of this process of literally changing your mind. And if your behaviors come from a similar place as mine they are a form of communication about how you feel inside and not the problem itself. This might be why they never could stop me from doing them either. I cannot be emotionally and intellectually dishonest to the degree that society expects. I hope you can take things five minutes at a time and I am here for you.

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