Monday, December 9, 2013

How to Win Against Fear in Your Mind

Friday night was more difficult than I expected. 

I always think of myself as someone who is used to separation. I'm good at thoroughly enjoying time close to a friend, and then still being thankful when we are separate again. Only the truth seems to be that I learned to detach at some point, and now that I'm opening my heart completely to people again, I'm not so good at this whole "being apart again" thing. 

I spent the day fighting spectral voices that were whispering lies about Nick's character and thoughts.

I know this creature from the days when I was trapped in depression. At the time I was bound to it and believed everything it said. I had to expose and silence it in order to become strong, and my friends helped me win by supplying me with an abundance of truth to shield myself from the lies. 

It's not dead yet, though. I still hear it whispering in the back of my mind most days, whining for attention, hoping I'll give it enough space to creep out and cloud my mind. Usually quoting my friends at it will keep it in check. But when I'm chemically depressed. When my emotions drop for good reasons, such as grief over a friend leaving after a visit, then the specter comes out in full force to take advantage of the situation. 
Below is a clarified version of the email I wrote Nick after calling him Saturday morning.

The minute I heard his voice, I felt healed and unafraid, but I would have struggled longer if I hadn't called him.

It was humorous to me how difficult it was to fight back against the mental image of him as being reluctantly dragged into relationship with me by some super-power I don't even have, and how quickly that idea vanished the moment I heard his voice.

I don't need to know why it works in order to realize this is a useful way to fight.  

It's funny the way my mind plays tricks with the past, Nick. The incredible friend you actually are ... and the vague "person-who-really-hates-me-even-when-they're-nice" projected by my head tend to mix me up when I'm feeling down. 
My emotions pull out the caricature because it's most familiar, and ... oh, that terrifying voice speaks loudly in the darkness. I vividly remember being alone and bound to the creature, believing every lie it told. I spent most of the night telling the truth to hold it off. 
I have a sudden mental image of holding my own against a cloaked specter, battling with words, truth against lies.
I won the fight, but it still wounded me. And that is why I needed to hear your voice ... to make my win feel tangible against the battle-wounds of fighting the past. I am not so strong as to stand on my own, and that's okay because you stand with me even when I can't see or feel your presence. 
I'm thankful for your willingness to supply me with confirmation of the truth and stick with me even when my fight doesn't make sense ... after all, you know only the reality of your genuine friendship and not the poisonous lies hidden in my mind.
Because I know I'm not the only one who faces these moments, it seems helpful to point out how I fight the specter that attempts to lock me down so I won't rely on my friends or find reassurance. (Basically, it would have won if I had chosen to cut myself off from the people who love me. I've been through that re-cycling negative-cycle, and it's no fun.)
  1. My friends and I speak to each other with complete transparency. This is vital! 
    - It is the friends who are consistently open with me who give me the best weapons. Their love equips me.
    - Collecting words from people who "might be lying" because I don't know them well just isn't as effective.
    - Back when civil friendships were all I had, it took a lot more people saying the same thing to create a useful counter-attack, and it was harder to fight.
  2. I contact my friends immediately when I find my emotions are becoming unstable.
    - If I can, I let them know ahead of time that I'll probably be struggling, and why. That way, they'll check in on me if I get caught up in the lies.
    - I keep reaching out until I connect with someone, even if it isn't someone from my core group of friends.
  3. I tell the truth about the situation both to my friends and myself. 
    - The problem usually isn't what just happened. It's usually something that happened a long time ago, and I'm feeling the emotions from back then, also.
    - I let them know this so they aren't trying to solve something that isn't the real cause.
    - I tell them what I need to hear. I'm the only one who knows what the specter is saying to me, so I have to let them know what words to supply to fight it. I can either tell them what I'm hearing inside so they can correct it, or say, "Can you please remind me of what you said about ... "
    - They give me truth because they are truthful people. This is why #1 is so important.
  4. I make sure they know it's not their problem, even though I'm trusting them to help me fight it. 
    - For example, Nick couldn't help going back to California. My agonizing reaction had nothing to do with his actions, even though his leaving triggered the specter.
    - I made sure he knew that I didn't believe the lies that rose up, and that I knew it was just an old recording from the past playing over again like an opportunistic ghost.
    - Once he understood this, he knew just what to say to help me re-write the scene so it couldn't possibly end the way my mind was attempting to write it.
    - He broke the cycle with me.
  5. I keep their positive responses and support up front in my mind. 
    - We can only focus on so much. Our brains are limited in their capacity to process information.
    - So when I have a choice between two subjects of thought, I choose the one that leads to a healthy balance in my emotions. (And it is completely legitimate to distract myself with a comedy if I just need some time to balance out, naturally.)
    - Even if I can't completely silence the negative perspectives and lies right away, when they have less room they die out a lot faster. And now I have a history of proof that they do die, eventually, no matter how my blood chemistry and situation might set me up for depression.
    - It's good to know that time is a part of the battle. 

Now I know "this, too, shall pass" and have some patience with myself when it seems to take forever. Thankfully, my friends are patient, too.