Posted by fxckfeelings on January 4, 2010Share This Post
In fxckfeelings.com terms, most resolutions are just grand, annual wishes, not goals. Goals, as we define them, are realistic, while wishes are failure-prone yearnings that are usually best ignored. The holidays are over, and so are the excuses n’bullshit, so for our own New Year’s babies/cases, happy New Year, and it’s time to ditch these resolutions, stat.
My girlfriend got mad at me on New Year’s Eve and now she tells me it’s blown over, but I can’t believe her. I’ve always had these massive how-stupid-could-you-be thoughts that I can’t get out of my mind after I say something that might be stupid, even if it isn’t really stupid, but I keep on thinking about what I said and have to tell a friend about it and then, when they re-assure me, I can’t believe them and have to ask them again until it drives them crazy, and I start to worry about how stupid I sound to them, and so on. So my big New Year’s resolution was to stop myself from being so insecure, but now it’s happening again and, even though my girlfriend is a pretty uncritical person, I can’t stop wanting to ask her for re-assurance. My goal is to be able to tell myself that I didn’t say anything stupid and have more confidence in myself and finally become the person I want to be.
Many people don’t grow out of their “I-hate-myself-for-being-so-stupid” reaction, no matter how much they accomplish, or get reassured, or seek professional help. They never find out why they’re so stupid, but they never stop asking.
The reason for their so-called immaturity is a kind of painful mental tic that hurts like hell when it happens, and can’t really be prevented or eliminated (other than by lobotomy, which is a skill I’m trying to acquire, as soon as I can find a willing test patient/Jon Gosselin returns my calls).
Telling yourself you have low self-esteem is a good way of blaming yourself, burdening yourself, and making false promise, so don’t resolve to control the self-hate spasms when you can’t. You’re turning your “stupid” tic into a personal failing rather than the impersonal, unlucky boo-boo that it is.
If you try to feel better by doing what the compulsive thoughts tells you to do—asking for reassurance—you’ll get temporary relief, followed by more self-doubt, a stronger need for reassurance, and a circle of pitying friends who learn to avoid you when you have a certain look in your eye. It’s like scratching a wound. You need to tie your hands or put a doggy cone around your neck.
So your goal isn’t to feel better or stop doubting. It’s to manage a painful mental tic by shutting up, going about your business, and preventing it from hurting you any more than is necessary.
There may be a positive side to these mental spasms; they may sometimes help you avoid trouble. They may also have helped one of your ancestors survive, thus passing on the obsessive worry genes that torture you now.
So for this New Year’s Day, don’t resolve to change problems that have no resolution; resolve to make the best of them. As resolutions go, it’s one of the few that isn’t stupid.
So compose a message to address the unreasonable expectations you or others may have about your obsessive self-doubt. “I usually don’t say or do stupid things and, if or when I do, I’m competent at seeking advice and mending fences. But there’s no way I can always say the right thing or get a positive response and, when things don’t go perfectly well, I can’t stop myself from feeling terrible. What I’m good at, however, is tolerating this painful feeling, going about my usual business, and not doing anything more stupid. So my New Year’s resolution is to keep up the good work.”
My son, now in his twenties, told me that his New Years’ resolution is to take his medication for his bi-polar disorder. I’d like to believe this is true, because I’m losing my patience with having to remind him constantly to stay on top of his meds, nag him not to drink, beg him to keep his therapy appointments, etc. On the other hand, I have no reason to believe his resolution is going to stick. My resolution is to find a way to make him grow up and become more responsible.
It would be nice if your son could end his medication avoidance, prevent bipolar relapses (which can be horribly debilitating and brain-damaging), and stabilize his mental health by resolving to take his meds but, as you sense, it’s not gonna happen. Don’t believe the resolution hype.
The probable reason is not that he’s irresponsible, but that he can’t be responsible. To speak about the problem in the more formal Harvard diagnostic terms, it’s not that he’s a fuck-up, it’s that he’s got a screw loose.
It would be nice if he was a fuck-up because then a good, sincere New Year’s vow to Thor or whomever could solve the problem. That’s the whole idea behind New Year’s resolutions: to marshal your will-power and make life better. The reason you shouldn’t be optimistic, however, is that his body is working against him.
People with bipolar illness are often swept away by feelings and impulses, like everyone else, except much, much more so. It’s not something you can change by being, or having been, a tougher or sweeter parent, and it might well defeat tons of his own good motivation and an honest desire to be more disciplined.
He’s not weak, he’s brain-damaged (like most of us). Cry yourself a river, and get set to be a better and more constructive coach. Mourn the loss of your dream of having a well-disciplined, self-starting kid, and start to imagine how to help someone who, regardless of how bright or creative he is, has a permanent weakness when it comes to remembering daily chores.
Set up incentives and reminders. Read books for self-organization, then give him the Readers’ Digest version, and reward him for trying the tricks such books describe, such as notes on the toothbrush and mirror. He’ll always have a screw loose, but as long as you’re around, you can help him figure out how to keep it in place.
Write a mission plan for yourself. “I’ve got a great son with a bad, incurable weakness which sometimes prevents him from caring for a serious illness. I do a good job of helping him manage his avoidant behavior, regardless of how well he controls that behavior. And any steps he takes in that direction are, in themselves, a great achievement.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname