Still Self Destructing After All These Years

a spider for Thordora...

For the second time this year I have burned through my disability cheque before the second week of the month, so for the next sixteen days I’ll be eating 0.19 cent packages of monosodium glutamate and wondering where the food bank is in this town.

I knew it was happening while I was doing it, I even told myself out loud that it was happening again. But I refused to look at my bank account until Saturday night when I withdrew $40 and it left me with $18.46 until October. And just like the last time, and all the times before that, I’ve made my life infinitely harder than it should be and did it mostly on purpose.

This type of self-destructive behaviour has been with me for a long time. But while I was on welfare and living off student loans during the 90’s the lack of money hid the behaviour. I couldn’t help but be broke before the next cheque, because on welfare the cheques only gave me $120 ($4/day) to buy a months worth of food and toilet paper.

Then, when I was reporting in Ottawa and Toronto — but especially while I was working in public relations, the self-destructive behaviours would sometimes have me spending $2000 in eight days… but at that pay-level people are more capable of loaning money to their broke friends then if both of you are almost homeless. So the self-destructive behaviours were covered.

There are two causes for my need to self-destruct and fail. The most obvious one comes from leaving the manic depression unmedicated and untreated for more than a dozen years. It’d be very hard to find someone who, for over a decade, is randomly and frequently struck with the desire to kill themselves yet can still think to be setting up a retirement plan, or getting apartment insurance… or washing the dishes.

Even after finding treatment and getting into recovery there’s still a long, long way to go before those behaviours can begin to change. I don’t want to kill myself anymore, but that’s still a long way from understanding the processes of everyday life and knowing how to participate in them.

Some other self-destructive patterns include isolating myself from friends and family; not flossing for long periods of time; occasionally going three or four days without showering; not taking my diabetes pill for days, or tracking my blood sugar levels… even knowing the less time I spend keeping track of my blood sugar the more likely I am to die from heart disease.

Then there’s exercise, it’s been a year since I’ve really walked anywhere and I’ve only used the bike I fought so hard for a few times. And of course it extends into work. I’ve always waited until deadlines have come and gone before starting my column, or the articles I was working on. I’ve even missed the deadline for a story I haven’t started for the local historical society newsletter.

…I’ll even wait, for example, until I’m exhausted before starting a post for Salted. Generally I start writing these things after 1am, when the ‘Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson’ is over, and finish between 5am and 8am.

The second cause is self-worth… the years of behavioural — or non-behavioural — conditioning and my almost total lack of self-esteem are sewn together like Frankenstein’s monster.

Recently I wrote about how how I see compliments, or positive acknowledgement, almost as threats. To clarify… not as a threat to my safety, but a threat in terms of how quickly I will stop respecting the person because, obviously, if they’re able to see value in what I’ve done they have no idea what they’re talking about. Mostly my lack of self-worth is projected outwards for just a second, but a few times it has lasted years.

And there is a physical component as well. I have an actual physical reaction to people writing about, or telling me something positive about myself or something I’ve done. It’s almost an electric, empty pinch which starts just above my left hip, shoots up my side, through my shoulder, up my neck and finishes in my head.

The most obvious example of my lack of self-worth, and how it turns into self-destructive behaviour, would be in how I deal with meeting people. Specifically people I might be interested in dating. This combines most of my self-destructive behaviours into one horrid package as one behaviour bleeds into the next.

It’s easy… I screw up my finances so I can’t ask her out to begin with, or we start dating and I destroy my finances by paying for stuff, then we stop doing stuff and she’s gone…

I spend three days a year cleaning my apartment, so how can I invite someone over on a whim when all of my dishes have been in the sink for two weeks? Or when there’s a knee high pile of recycling next to the stove because I’ve missed three pickups in a row? How do I invite someone into my bedroom when every piece of clothing I own is piled around the room, and there are no sheets on my twenty-year old mattress?

The answers are all the same… I don’t. Because I don’t believe there’s any chance whatsoever she’ll stay with me and because I believe doing nothing makes sense because I’m programed to die, so I end up spending all of my time not doing stuff so later on I won’t have the option of doing anything.

I don’t want to commit suicide, and I haven’t even thought about it seriously in pretty much a year. But the expectation, and the “why bother” which comes with it, is still inside me. It’s like how we all know the sun is coming up tomorrow, it really is that ubiquitous. Then tie that to a firm and equally ubiquitous belief that I’m not worth saving… there’s just no reason for me to be doing more than the absolute bare minimum.

Sure, I’ll get the prescription for the diabetes pills filled out, and I’ll take them if I remember. Sure, I can budget $940 over a month… at least over 25 days anyway. Sure, I’ll floss before every dentist appointment, and I’ll listen intently to every stern lecture she gives me about doing it more often. But I won’t do it more because, really, I’m not worth it and her respect for me is just something that does not feel good.

In fact her, or anyone’s, compliment towards me or positive acknowledgement of something I’ve done just makes my lack of confidence and self-esteem even more apparent to me, because you’re telling me I’ve failed until this point.

The self-worth issues come from a lot of places. And over the next few appointments my doctor and I will be exploring them. But the abandonment issues with my father, and growing up with very little positive feedback from my family would have to be right up there on the list.

The difference between surviving with no money this time and the others is I won’t be asking my family for help. I’m going to be eating a lot of pasta, and drinking a lot of water mixed with lime or lemon juice, but I’m not burdening my family with this crap this time.

.

.

About Gabriel...

...diagnosed with manic depression in 1989, for the next 14-years I lived without treatment or a recovery plan. I've been homeless, one time I graduated college, I've won awards for reporting on Internet privacy issues, and a weekly humour column. In 2002 I finally hit bottom and found help. I have an 8-year old son, and a 4-year old son... I’m usually about six feet tall, and I'm pretty sure I screwed up my book deal. I mostly blog at saltedlithium.com....
This entry was posted in Bipolar Disease, Bipolar Disorder, crazy people with no pants, Health, Living With Depression, Living With Manic Depression, Poverty, Salted Truths. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Still Self Destructing After All These Years

  1. thordora says:

    I could have written this.

    Hugs Gabe. You’ll get there.

  2. Gabriel... says:

    Thanks Thor… most of the time for most of the past eighteen years I’ve felt like I’ve been walking with my two legs encased in clay. How did you like your spider? As soon as I saw it I thought “oh man, Thor will love this… and it’ll totally make up for the wasp thing.”

  3. bromac says:

    Wow. I hope the exploration brings you some peace and answers on this. You really do deserve much more respect than you allow yourself.

  4. Gabriel... says:

    Hi bromac, and thanks. I’m just fading away into sleep and my head is fuzzy, but I think “and my almost total lack of self-worth” may have been a little harsh. I’ll probably edit it a little… something like “how I generally feel lacking in self-esteem…” or something. Thanks again.

  5. jsprik says:

    good stuff here….like a page from my own life story…we have a lot in common!! keeping you in my prayers!! thanks for the comment, btw!! just trying to keep my head above water here. seems to be working for the time being. thanks again…

  6. exactscience says:

    Brilliant.

    Guess who has five pounds to do him until Friday? Moving into a new flat has left me without much money.

    Currently the only way for me to keep being able to put food on my table is to budget weekly but that is a dull story. I just never really figured out how to budget properly, too busy being mental I suppose.

    I don’t think you are being actively self-destructive, you are just not being self-constructive? And you are right years of pervasive depression will do that, but isn’t that what recovery is about learning to be constructive and not destructive?

  7. zoom says:

    What Bromac said.

  8. Soire says:

    See – for me, I’m so neurotic about money, and having enough, and making the ends meet now – partially because there are little people to feed, that when something goes kaboom, (Ie: my partner not qualifying for EI for the 4 weeks he was off work, or other crap) that starts the down spiral – but I am so painfully aware of where every cent goes that I often have trouble justifying “extra” money.

    I (like Bromac and Zoom above) hope that you can make some progress on the esteem issues. They feed into everything, even if it’s just a little.

    One foot in front of the other. It’s the only way to walk the path 😉

  9. XUP says:

    You DO know that there are a lot of people out there living with a sink full of dishes and spending beyond their means and not flossing as much as they should and stuff like that, right? It’s called being human. Humans are by nature self-destructive, I think. Show me a human who doesn’t engage in self-destructive behaviour of some sort. You’re a survivor, Gabriel. You’ve got an unlimited store of untapped strength or you wouldn’t have made it this far. I second (third?) what Zoom via Bromac said.

  10. markps2 says:

    My solution is simple, I don’t carry the cash on me to overspend with.

  11. giannakali says:

    yes…you deserve respect and compliments but now I dare not compliment you…

    was that a compliment?

  12. dailypiglet says:

    interesting post, i’ve suffered with similar aspects of what you’ve outlined myself.

    the ugly and depraved felt safe, the kind and loving did not. i’ve put a lot of effort into personal growth and recovery, i like to think i’ve improved ever so much. i think my mind will always be wired this way, but behavior modification helps.

    i found out last year that the u.s. government handed out pamphlets to parents advising them not to show affection to their children and to never say, “i love you”.

    this is something that’s been passed down to many generations. self hatred is an accepted practice within our modern society.

    deep down, i believe all humans desire acceptance, love and positive feedback.

    i think people who deny this, are working off of an old script, and not one they wrote themselves.

    the trick is to define those voices, figure out who said them and then to put an end to *them*, and not ourselves.

  13. dailypiglet says:

    p.s. you might like this site: realmental.org it’s all about “the crazy”.

  14. Gabriel... says:

    It’s 7C this morning (44F), I’m sitting here wearing only my shorts, all of my windows are open and my fans are on… but I’m not cold. This is actually my favourite time of year. We were close to 30C a couple of days ago thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Ike, but otherwise we’re around 20C during the day and at or below 10C at night. Perfect.

    Anyway.

    So many new people coming through here and the first thing they read is “compliments give me a rash”. I probably should have clarified the compliment thing… when I published this I thought about what the reaction might be from people reading this, and that I’d never get another nice or kind word from anyone ever again, but I didn’t go back to edit away the generalized absolutes and get into specifics because I was just too frigging tired.

    So I’ll try this… everyday stuff I’m okay with: way to go; good job; wow, it’s so big; nice apartment… that kind of stuff. There’s no pain or “assault” associated with that stuff, although I will immediately push to change the topic. And with the more intense acknowledgements, like the email Exact Science sent me a few days ago (which was wonderful), that electric shock thing only lasts for a second — although there’s generally a longer recovery period as I try to figure out if the person was joking, being cruel, serious, who they are and how much of my life have I wasted away not doing more of the thing I’ve been complimented on doing.

    I don’t know how this all exactly works yet because my doctor and I are just starting to work on figuring this out…

    Compliments do feel good. If you were ever wondering if you should write nice things about me in open Internet forums you should know it’s always, always a good idea. I don’t react well to them at first blush, they make me uncomfortable, but there’s almost always a nice, warm feeling that comes along after the paralysing electric charge screams into my brain.

    I think there are two lines from this piece that maybe could have stood on their own:

    “…the years of behavioural — or non-behavioural — conditioning and my almost total lack of self-esteem are sewn together like Frankenstein’s monster.”

    and…

    “…my lack of self-worth is projected outwards for just a second, but a few times it has lasted years.”

    If I could do it again I’d change “almost total” to “general” but otherwise I think what I was trying to say in this post is pretty much summed up in those two sentences.

    The email Exact Science (Scott) sent me the other day did cause a physical reaction, and did have an effect on me. But it wasn’t… entirely negative.

    I don’t entirely know how I should react to this stuff, maybe that’s part of the problem… like… sometimes the comments left here and things people (Scott) email me about what they think about me, and the positive effect they believe Salted is having, make me want to cry… and there’s an immediate recoil. And sometimes, like when I won an award for humour writing from a large newspaper association, I just don’t immediately know what to do or how to react.

    So, sitting at the awards table thinking it was just uncomfortable enough to be nominated, I drank eighteen rum and Cokes. Because I thought that’s how people react to these things, or deal with their feelings so they can react properly. That’s how weird all of this is.

    When I got back to Ottawa I was finally excited and went to my friend Wes’ apartment and practically gushed it all out and right away he was excited for me and slapped my shoulder and right then it was like… blah.

    Maybe I was disappointed in his reaction as well as embarrassed at my own… that’s interesting.

    But I still to this day get a positive charge from looking at the Awards Magazine where they have my name, headshot and an incredibly positive review of me and my columns… but there are parts of me, like the first ten of twelve layers of my self-esteem, that don’t have any faith whatsoever in the judging panel’s… I guess judgement.

    Anyway… I’ll be writing more about this as I figure it out. For the new people… welcome and I have another blog which isn’t so crazy… whoops, too late.

  15. Ameroux says:

    Gabriel, stop beating yourself up. Your behavior is not really self-destructive. You’re living in a “feast or famine” situation. For most of the month you have nothing, so when the money comes, it’s very difficult not to get the things you want. I discovered this when I was living on disability myself. Living in a state of continuous deprivation, i.e. famine, sets you up for a binge, i.e. feast. So try to be as kind to yourself as you are to those who post on your blog, or at least give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Take care, Ameroux

    [originally posted on Plans For My Blogging Anniversary And Someone Looking For Absolutely Nothing Finds My Blog]

  16. Jesus. This was a frickin’ long one and my brain is fried today…a lot to work with here. *sigh* Let’s see what I can say. It’s a kind of same but different groove, nin-JAH but a totally, “I get it, no shit, Sherlock,” kind of deal…mmm’kay?

    I’ll try and do this, maybe in the order of your post as my brain isn’t very orderly.

    Money: Burn through it when I had it; burn through it when I didn’t have it (i.e. credit cards etc…) It took a long time (like until I was properly medicated) to even barely get that under control. Now, all good but the job business…please do not let me not lose everything I’ve worked so hard to save–my measly bag of peanuts!!!

    Continuing with “getting the house in order,” I would still have random thoughts of killing myself even when “stable.” I don’t know. Just me *shrug*

    Self-Worth? Uh…hi? Yeah, whatever. What the hell is that? Even though I have been very lucky to meet *counts on one hand* some people that have believed in me…still! A lot of times I have major struggles!

    Another “Self,” is Self-Care. Like you were saying about everything being a mess around your living space, not taking care of ourselves physically…oh, yeah! I mean, even when feeling some stability I’d still suck at it! There would always seem to be some sort of residual “mood shittiness” or something going on.

    Who knows? Maybe it’s different for everyone. You are writing this within the context of being Self-Destructive. I guess I may describe my lack of Self-Care differently?

    My sabotage? My Self-Destructive behaviour? It’s pretty well known to some readers on my blog. Drinking. Call it an “Addiction,” “Disease,” (my preference because it is), whatever. I know it’s not good for me but I just say fuck it and do it anyway–so that spells “Self-Destructive” like nothing else!

    And abandonment issues? Oh, Christ Gabe! I could fill up your comment section with 5,000,000 blog posts!

    Okay, a slight exaggeration but you get the idea.

  17. thordora says:

    The spider? Oh yes, much better. Love those little fuckers. 🙂

  18. dw says:

    great post, g.

    and this:” It’s almost an electric, empty pinch which starts just above my left hip, shoots up my side, through my shoulder, up my neck and finishes in my head.”

    thanks for writing that and helping me feel less retarded.

    but that spider!

    fuck!

    shit!

  19. Rhiannon says:

    I’ve been there, pretty much for all of this post. Like many others I’m sure I could have written of very similar experiences. But you have accomplished a lot, though I know it doesn’t feel that way when you’re going on your 4th day without a shower and you’re beginning to have a suspicion that you smell even over the uber-strong deodorant.

  20. Rhiannon says:

    Not that I’ve evee done that ;p

  21. Pingback: How Growing Up With Wire Monkeys Added To My Self Destructive Behaviour « …salted lithium.

  22. Gabriel... says:

    Everyone / Anyone: I wrote a follow up post to this one because I think I didn’t do such a good job explaining some stuff. I also expanded on some stuff, and added some stuff as well… lots of different stuff.

    Hi Purple NINjah… maybe “self-defeating” behaviour? It kind of fits, but doesn’t have the right kick…

    I knew you’d love that one Thor. I’ve been trying to take photos of spiders recently, but the little bastards are either grey or brown and just hang there.

    dw… you have no idea how good it is to see you back. I used part of your response as a quote at the top of my latest post.

    Thanks Rhiannon… it can be very VERY awkward admitting to certain behaviours in an open forum. One thing I’ve become very good at over the years is not spilling stuff on my shirts. As long as there are no stains on you then the smell is obviously coming from somewhere else.

  23. “Self-Defeating?” Could be but I’m going to run up to your other post going back to this one as I’ve got at least a little bit to say re: that one?

  24. Pingback: Eating Steak On A Sawdust Budget « …salted lithium.

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