The Challenges of Change

a colleague and enjoying a moment of professional mirth, as I recently observed while in the hospital. And I marvel. I used to be one of those people – just doing normal things, showing up for work, dressing professionally, the usual stuff – and now “the usual” seems an impossible goal or achievement, something only the mighty and good can reach. I don’t want to be accomplished, “great,” make good money, or considered “talented” anymore – I simply want to be “average.” Plus stop hurting people, reciprocate kindnesses and, if I’m lucky, contribute a little meaning to this world.  But I can’t even manage those little things.

Nonetheless I am trying to change, for real, right now, even though I’m sure it’s unapparent to those close to me. But the fact is I’m weak:  The ways in which I’ve dealt with my mind and life events, for the past 20 years, prove it – and I don’t know if I have the strength, or courage, to change. I don’t know if I have the strength to sit with the reality of me and the courage to let go of the behaviors I’ve relied on to make me feel “safe” or “in control”; or the strength to stop myself from carrying through the impulsive, highly-destructive actions I’ve always resorted to when my emotions reach an intolerable boiling point.

I’ve succeeded once or twice, with the latter challenge, the past couple months. But just barely. And the failures have dwarfed the successes.

I wonder a lot lately why I’ve spent so much of the past few years being angry and blaming others, when – even if some of those feelings or beliefs are remotely justified – focusing on them is a waste of time and energy, period. The anger gets me nowhere – and it’s in actuality mostly a cover-up for hurt feelings, and sometimes denial. But you also turn people – and potential listeners or collaborators  – away with anger.

The blame is even more pointless – because I’m complaining about things or issues or systemic, socio-political injustices my little voice will never, ever impact. Because let’s face it people, almost nobody reads me (although I’m grateful to those that do). But, of course, nobody in positions of power read me. So what’s the point of even trying to highlight prejudices or bad practices, or whatever thorn happens to be pricking my vulnerable side at any given moment – things which okay may play some, small role in the state of my life – but which pointing out is never going to make my life better. The only thing that’s going to do that is me. Change is on me.

So that brings me to another ingredient I realize I need for change: Acceptance. Am I – (are you) – willing to accept the world as it is, that certain disparities are always going to exist, and that I’m certainly not going to play any role in reversing them; can I not only accept these things and stop fighting them (it’s a losing battle), but also accept the state of my life? Particularly in comparison to others’? My life (your life), is what it is. Deal with it, Jeanene. A lot of people have it worse than me. Accept the fact that I have no fu–ing control.

It all seems too much right now, as I approach Oct. 23, that one-year “anniversary” of my suicide attempt:  Having to not only face up to my culpability in the state of my life, and my failure to “recover,” as I’ve seen so many others do –  while simultaneously attempting to cope differently with the painful psychological, existential and relational issues which have been present and growing ever-more complex and entangled for years.

Oh, and there’s one other thing I can’t comprehend learning how to do, if I’m really going to change. I don’t even know if it’s something a person can learn; it seems you have to be

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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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