Thursday, June 21, 2012

What Joins Us

I have done terrible things during manic and mixed episodes.  I have hurt those who love me, squandered my savings, lost jobs, behaved very poorly, and even attempted suicide.  As episodes ended, the knowledge of what I had done made me feel so alone, so separate from those close to me.  Isolated even from strangers.  The worse I felt I had behaved, the more I felt I was an undesirable person.  Immoral acts left me feeling as if I had no one.

Mental Illness and its associated behaviors can make one feel wrong without equal.  A sense that only a very sick person would commit such transgressions can drive one inward and away from those who can help.  We often push those who want to help away, if only to protect them.  Fear of hurting or disappointing others leads to strained and severed relationships.

But who hasn't hurt someone?  Who hasn't lost money, stayed in bed, embarrassed himself in public or acted cruelly?  No one is infallible.  All have flaws.  Could it be possible that our egregious behavior actually joins us to others?  Love, grace, and honesty support humanity.  But humanity screws up.  Why should our failures leave us feeling so apart when everyone has failed?  Perhaps the very things that makes us feel alone are the things we have most in common with others.  Perhaps the acknowledgement that we share failure can make us more able to share success.

This does not give us license to hurt others and ourselves.  But it does allow us to forgive ourselves.  Just as we have forgiven others for transgressions against us, we must forgive ourselves for our failings, rejoin humanity, and move on.  We must see the behavior that most embarrasses us as an opportunity to practice self-compassion.  We should hold ourselves gently and let guilt and regret go.  Then, and only then, can we seek forgiveness from others.  For how can we ask to be forgiven if we haven't first forgiven ourselves?

Everyone who hurts, and everyone who has hurt someone else, has something very deep in common.  This hurt is independent of any diagnosis.  Hurt is not a symptom.  It's part of being human, something we all share.  With something so profound in common with everyone, why should we feel so alone?

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