One of my unhealthy patterns, throughout life thus far, has been to care about what other’s think of me way too much. All the time.
I think many, many people do this: dare I say- particularly women?! But I guess there are those that just worry a little about what everyone will think of their new outfit, and those who care so much about what others think that it affects their life decision-making process, and causes great anxiety (possibly Social Phobia), even shame.
I fall into the latter category.
There are many ways I’ve allowed this anxiety over the opinions of others to affect me, but two really stand out.
I’ve allowed my care for what other people think of me to push me into many unsuitable jobs. Jobs that I got just to prove to others that yes I could work and that I wasn’t just going to “sponge off the government”. This usually led to barely controllable Bipolar symptoms.
(I don’t believe it is sponging off the government now. I know I truly was ill with Bipolar and had a genuine need for that financial support. There are many who genuinely need this support).
Caring so much for the opinions of others led me to a fairly appalling view of my body- I think I thought this kept me slim and healthy. It did for a while, but not anymore. My self esteem was, and still is, massively affected by how I think others perceive my body. I worried about what other people thought about what I ate. In fact I still have issues about eating in front of other people.
Not Knowing or Trusting Myself
With my mind constantly obsessing and analysing myself from the perspective of how others perceived me, I lost that real sense of knowing who I am. I still don’t trust myself to make good decisions (someone once said to me that there is no right or wrong decision- only the effects of that decision to deal with). Lack of Identity is a core feature of Borderline Personality Disorder and I believe present in Bipolar too (see Bipolar/Borderline Sensitivity & Loss of Identity)
What do I want from life? This is such a tough question to answer. I’m so used to thinking I must follow the set path laid out for me by society: school, university, career, marriage, babies. Anything less would be a failure right?
But Bipolar has made me reframe my perspective. It prevented me from progressing further down this pre-determined social path. I had to reassess what I believed success to be.
Does it really matter that I’m not going to be a doctor or teacher? I might never be married or have children. Does this matter? Was this really what I wanted in the first place? I don’t know!!! I don’t know what I want. I’m in the process of finding out.
Self Discovery is a term I really like. It makes the whole process sound more subjective and a bit of an adventure. There is room for expansion and exploration.
Self Discovery also requires that we are mindful of our thoughts and feelings towards things. You can’t discover what you like or don’t like unless you pay attention to your own reactions. This may sound simplistic but, believe me, I’ve been studying everybody else’s reactions for so long it can really be a challenge to listen to myself.
(Mindfulness is a well known tool in managing depression and anxiety, so allowing this process of self discovery can only be a positive thing).
I’m enjoying exploring my innate NEED to write, to learn and to analyse things in a psychological way (sometimes this is a good thing, other times it can lead to rumination on the negative). I have a lot of passion in me- for art, music, causes, people, animals, many things.
Everyone has needs that I never knew existed and are completely different from one person to the next. My partner has a need for physical exertion, for engaging in sports like football and cycling. His method of relaxing is through challenges and using skill, for example he loves playing pool.
I’ve never really viewed these things as NEEDS before, more as indulgence and a luxury. I’m learning they are actually essential to our health as a “whole” being-: physical, mental and at a soul-level. All these facets are important in creating a balance in our lives.
I’m learning that I have many sides to myself that all need equal attention: there’s Rachel the artist, Rachel the writer, Rachel the philosopher, Rachel the musician, Rachel the student, Rachel the child who needs to play, laugh and have fun, Rachel the explorer who needs to be out there trying new things and going to new places.
Managing These Needs
These are all needs that I never really knew I had in me. They all need attention which sometimes feels completely overwhelming.
I think organisation might be the key here, which, when you’re a creative person, feels a bit boring and sensible as there is also that yearning for spontaneous creative flow. But I’m learning that you need to put in the structure, discipline and work before you even get to the creative flow. I have to put in the time playing scales on the piano to allow my fingers to work with skill and efficiency when playing the more desirable pieces of music.
Motivation Through Inspiration
I also need to devote time to inspiration. This comes to me when I’m watching ballet, listening to music or out in nature. I always used to view spending time on these things as selfish. But I now know I NEED them!!
Whilst watching the Olympic Gymnasts I was inspired by their beauty, grace and power, but also by their total commitment and dedication to gruelling training, and hours and hours of hard graft in the gym. It is this discipline and mental strength in overcoming self-doubt and discomfort that I find so admirable. It is lacking from my character and something I would like to develop. They are great role models for me and provide motivation.
I’m learning that I do have control of my life- I don’t just have to let it happen to me. I can take it by the reins and steer it in the direction I want it to go, no matter whether other people approve of this direction or not.
How You See Yourself is What Matters (blog post in relation to the writer’s eating disorder and Complex-PTSD)