Natasha Tracy, author of Breaking Bipolar at Healthy Place recently published a couple of posts about the Worst Things to Say to Someone with a Mental Illness.
On Bipolar Burble, Natasha’s personal blog, she elaborated on her all-time, most-hated, I-will-kill-you-if-you-say-this phrase: You create your own reality. As always, Natasha makes some fantastic points, and I urge you to read her posts if you haven’t already.
After reading Natasha’s posts I got to thinking of a woman I used to work with.
When I first met her in February 2010, her face was square. She had no discernible neck. Later, it turned out the glands in her neck were swollen. Like, really swollen. She had lymphoma: Cancer of the immune system.
She was an interesting woman. I wouldn’t say nice (for reasons I won’t discuss here). More like an aggressive, two-faced, psychopathic biatch, but interesting all the same.
One particular day in the office, I was minding my own business at the Reception desk. Truth be told, I was barely with it. My mind was heavy with depression, and I struggled to stay awake, let alone smile, talk, laugh and generally interact the way I should. Three of my co-workers were in the reception area, talking loudly and disturbing my peace. Then a friend made a comment about me making a chicken pie and bringing it in for lunch. “I’d poison the pie” I retorted. My skin crawling at the incredulity of it all.
Unfortunately, one of the people in that room was my boss. A horrible, barely literate neanderthal, who spent hour after hour in his office creating drama for the company as opposed to actually doing anything productive.
He called me into his office, and asked me why I made the comment. According to him, I had said the wrong thing. Being as depressed as I was, I failed to fill him in on the longstanding in-joke between my friend and I (he often joked about me making lunch for everyone. I always refused). Instead, I mumbled some response that probably made little sense.
From here he proceeded to berate me for being “too quiet” around the office. He ranted and raved about how my performance had deterioriated since my three month review, although he failed to actually explain in what way my performance had become less than desirable, aside from my less talkative demeanour.
“I can’t deal with this today.” I replied, struggling to hold the tears back. “I have to go”. All of the agony I had been trying to contain was dripping in warm salty drops onto the floor. I was going home, getting into bed, and never getting out again.
Then I heard him scoff. You know how people scoff, laugh in a way that says “Typical”.
Around I turned, into his office, my face now in a rage “how dare you laugh at me when I am upset!”
“I didn’t laugh” he retorted, shocked at my fearlessness.
I was enraged. And I made sure he knew it. “Am I not doing my job the way I’m supposed to?”, “Yes, you are” he said.
“Have people complained about me or my phone manner?”
“Then what exactly is the problem!” I shouted.
“You’re too quiet”.
This confrontation clearly made him uncomfortable because he hurriedly called in a female co-worker. It was me crying, her looking awkward and him not knowing what to do. Tears were coming fast and easily. I couldn’t speak for a long time. I just sat there. Mascara running down my cheeks. My privacy compromised. Humiliated.
“You’ve noticed it,” he said to her. Exasperation on her face.
“Do not put her in that position.” I spat at him. “That’s unfair of you.”
So we left the office, and the woman with lymphoma appeared and ushered us into hers. For an hour or two – I can’t remember – I sat in there and cried. Deep choking sobs reverberated through me, the darkness in me finally escaping my control. Tissue after tissue thrust into my hand.
While my friend sat there with tears in her eyes, clearly feeling my despair, The Lady with Lymphoma tried to find out why I was so upset.
I cried about making more mistakes than usual. About being tired. About being stressed. About my flatmates, and my damaged car, and my court case, and my money trouble.
When she had extracted all she would from me, she proceeded to tell me that I, in fact, was attracting all of these negative events into my life.
“These things are only happening because you expect them to”. She said.
Yeah. I definitely expected the worst when I flew to the other side of the country to move in with The Olympian (who, by the way, actually is an Olympian – not some sort of sex-god – although I am sure he likes to think he is).
I definitely expected to have (in a one year period) one car stolen, over $1,500 in vet bills for my horse, three car accidents (including one major one), a 6-month long small claims court case (against a compulsive liar), flatmates who stole over a thousand dollars worth of my stuff, moving flats 3 times, and a $230 speeding ticket for failing to notice a temporary speed sign – which ironically, I failed to notice because I was worrying about money.
I definitely expected that just as one thing was beginning to resolve, and relief began to wash over me, another problem would appear to take its place.
I definitely sat around expecting all this stuff to happen. That’s what I thought about in my spare time, and whenever my mind wandered. No, I didn’t feel excited about the move. I wasn’t expecting an exciting adventure. I didn’t see it as a chance for me to grow as a person, to experience a new life, to be independent, to have fun.
I expected the worst. And hell, I decided to move anyway!
Granted, she didn’t know I was depressed. Maybe if she had, she might have offered a different lecture. Maybe she would have realised that depression is an illness, that negative thinking is the hallmark sign of a depressed person.
But…Based on her philosophy of life, I doubt it.
According to her, it was my fault I had experienced all of the aforementioned negative events because I had expected them to happen. I had attracted them to me by having negative thoughts, by expecting the worst. By extension, it was also my fault that I was suffering from a severe depression, and all it would take to recover was some positive thinking.
In reality, I had been excited about the move. I didn’t even think about car accidents, or money trouble, or kleptomanic flatmates. I was positive, optimistic, and perhaps somewhat stupidly given I have Bipolar Disorder, in the face of all the stress I didn’t even think about becoming depressed.
In fact, it took this episode of uncontrollable crying and public humiliation for me to realise that I actually was depressed. That the reason I had an eye twitch for 3 months, was just on-time for work everyday, showering infrequenty, and feeling so god-awful tired was indeed my old friend depression.
So, how could I cause something to happen by expecting it, if I hadn’t even thought about it at all? How could I attract negative events to me, if I had been positive?
“We attract what we want to us by the way we think”, is another way of saying “We create our own reality”.
Doesn’t that seem a little delusional to you?
I won’t deny it’s important to take responsibility for yourself, or that it’s important to be positive and optimistic. I’ll even agree that challenging negative or irrational thoughts can be beneficial.
Blind positivity in the face of disaster is stupid. Denial is going to get you nowhere, and no matter how many positive thoughts we send out into the universe, most of us will just not win the lottery!
I wonder if she realised that by her logic her lymphoma was a result of her expectation that she would get it. A result of all those hours she sat around attracting and expecting bad things to happen. I wonder if she realised that her belief in the power of thought meant the reason lymphoma ultimately extinguished her life was her fault because she didn’t think positively enough.
The sad thing is, I’ve never met a person more in denial of their illness than she was. All the praise everyone gave her for being so strong, and pushing through irritated me. It irritated me because I could see through her. I saw through her fake smiles in heavy lipstick, her loud laugh, and her ever-shining positive exterior. All I saw was thinly suppressed aggression, resentment, and fear.
I could see how frightened and lost she was, and how hard she worked to deny that. I could feel the venom that ran through her veins, the resentment, the anger, the denial seeping out of her every pore. I saw through her. And for that, she despised me.
I felt sad for her too. I felt sad that she was in so much denial, spending so much energy fighting down reality, her real feelings, pretending all is okay, and that it will all be okay, forever and ever. I felt sad that someone could live out their final days like that. I felt sad that she was living out her final days.
For all her thick and sickly sweet positivity she clearly couldn’t create her own reality.
So why then did she expect that I had created mine?