On Mental Health

Reconnecting with my positive self: silencing the inner saboteur

I had to leave a job I felt proud of in 2019 after suffering a severe mental health relapse. Prior to that it had taken years of volunteering, part time work and work to reach the point at which I could say I took pride in and enjoyed my work. It was highly stressful but also something of a calling; I had worked with two brilliant social workers when I first became unwell, and so was proud of the fact that I could work in a similar position and help people who were suffering adversity.

I still had symptoms when I was working, and looking back I can acknowledge now that I did myself a wrong by not taking more time out for myself to work through these experiences. I just kept my head down, gritted my teeth and did my best to ignore them. This spiralled and spiralled and meant that, in August of 2019, my head imploded again and I had to leave my job. Since then I haven’t done much. Obviously there’s been a pandemic in the meantime, and so finding a job didn’t seem to be the right thing to do. It’s been a fairly bleak two years though. I have spent a lot of time trying to make peace with my re-hospitalisation, and what it said about how I was living my life prior to it.

Unfortunately, due in part to the pandemic and part to the fact that I wasn’t in a great head space, I have spent quite a lot of time on my own over the last two years. I live on my own, am not in a relationship and so have become quite isolated. Up until the first of Jan red wine and netflix were my trusty companions and methods of filling in the time. (Since the first of Jan it’s been only netflix, I finally managed to kick the alcohol habit.) I am, however, still spending more time than I’m happy with slouched in front of netfliix.

The problem that I’m struggling with is low energy levels, like really low energy levels. I manage to basically function, in that I do my washing, keep the flat clean and tidy, cook myself healthy meals every day and keep in contact (just about) with the people I want to keep in touch with. I’ve recently joined several social groups so have just started reconnecting with the world in a small way, and have been getting out and about and meeting some new people. I’ve been more active in the last month than I have been in the last year and a half. As I write this I am able to connect with the positivity of all that- the positivity of the steps I have taken in the last six weeks. But I am so susceptible to falling underneath that positvity, and falling prey to my “inner-saboteur.”

“Inner- saboteur” is a phrase I first heard on Ru Paul’s drag race, and was used by Ru-Paul to describe that voice he would hear in his head that appeared to have no function other than to tear him to shreds. It’s that inner voice that comes in and say “you won’t be able to do that,” when you contemplate doing something new. It’s the voice which says “nobody will find you interesting,” when you think about talking to a group of people.

Basically it’s that voice which works to sabotage you and all your good intentions, which functions to tear you down and make you feel like shit. The voice that convinces you that you’ll never be enough, you’ll never be worth anything, and works to keep you sitting in one place, staring at the Netflix page. My inner saboteur can be tricksy- it can be cunning and insidious and if I’m feeling particularly low already it can be vicious. I’ve suffered from this voice ever since I first became unwell, and it has at times worked to make me feel suicidal, apparently working to convince me that I’m some kind of monster, a horrible person who affects other people negatively, or just that I’m not worth anything, that I’ll never be good enough.

I have noticed with myself, that this voice kind of functions on different levels. If I”m thinking about doing something positive, like doing some writing, or going out for a run, it will manipulate me into feeling as though it’s not worth doing. It will tell me it’ll all be for nothing, that I won’t produce any kind of positive sensation afterwards. “If you’re not going to feel good afterwards then why exert yourself? Why push yourself to go through that?” As I said, this voice is tricksy. Other times if I”m already low it will simply pound me into apparent submission.

If I’m already low- at the end of a five hour netflix benge and having achieved nothing other than getting in the shower and making a plate of dinner throughout the day it will simply tell me I’m nothing, that I’m a failure, that I’m worthless, that I don’t deserve other people to still be rooting for me. Of course this then bleeds into the delusional thinking- that, in that moment, I’m letting everybody else down. The truth of course, is that nobody else is aware of my mental state, what I’m doing moment to moment etc. I don’t really talk about any of this with anyone.I don’t put it on friends or family because it’s not their problem, it’s not their challenge. So I’m not letting anybody else down, the only person I’m letting down is myself.

And this is the really insidious aspect of this inner sabotuer voice- it leaves me desperate and guilty that I’m letting myself down, that I’m lying to myself- it pounds me and pounds me until I have nothing left to defend myself with.

Because the thing I’m learning, is that once you give that voice space, that useless, lying voice, it will come in and try and take up more space. It’s difficult to describe but it’s like a freezing logic, it holds the sense and tone of some kind of vice. It shows you the negative side of every positive impulse, rendering every positive idea worthless, and then finishing up with the typical, manipulative- “only you can make it better. It’s all on you.”

But then it’s more than that. The more space you give it, the more you succumb to this terrible agency, the more it seeps into other thought processes, again working to subvert the positive. “Don’t feel confident about that aspect of your actions, feel confident about this instead,” and that second aspect will have a faulty aspect to it. It will twist things so that they are no longer simple and positive, but instead suddenly hold several black holes, ways in which it can be twisted into something problematic, something faulty and riddled with weak spots. That inner sabateur will come in and turn grass which was previously lush and green, brown and middling. It seems to me to work by stating- well nothing can be that positive right? And then it undermines.

I think it’s a product of trying and failing in the past, and then beating myself up over those failings. It means that in weak moments that inner saboteur works to destroy my confidence that things could ever just work, things could never just be good. Then that voice comes in an wipes the floor with my optimism- tainting everything and attaching this negative, cynical layer. Obviously anything which is worth while takes work- but if you’re pushed into that work through fear of the inner saboteur it’ll run you ragged. You have to work towards the positive, not away from the negative.

The more space you give the inner sabateur, the more it will work to take. The more it will start to demand.

Which is why I am now, staunchly, reconnecting with the positive. I’m working to silence the voice of the inner saboteur.

And this is what this post is about, and where I am at now in my thinking. If I want to sit and watch netflix for five hours, that is my prerogative. What I’m learning, and remembering, is that this voice used to come on when I was at work. It would come on when I was pushing myself as hard as I conceivably could- when I was beating the odds every day (there is a very low number of people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia who return to work after a prolonged period of illness.) When I was working I should have had a voice which came in and said: “you’re absolutely incredible! You’re a legend, a warrior, you should feel so good about yourself that you should be beaming with pride and self confidence.” However that voice never generated, that voice never came in. Instead, I still dealt with that voice which said “it’s not enough, you’re not enough, you will never be enough.”

What I have learnt is that that voice is a bully. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, only that I feel dejected and self recriminating enough to listen to it. Ok, so sitting in front of netflix isn’t much to be proud of. That doesn’t mean that I deserve to listen to that bloody voice, it doesn’t give that voice the right to come in and tear me to pieces. I am worth more than that, even whilst I am only sitting on the sofa, on my own, doing not much that’s particularly “productive.” I’m only really starting to get a sense of the importance of this self-awareness at the moment. As said, the last two years have been pretty dark. I had internalised this voice, I had taken on the mantle “only you can get your fat ass off that sofa. It’s all down to you and how you choose to spend your time.”

I’m not saying that that isn’t the truth, just that I shouldn’t have to internalise that negative tone. A voice which tells you you’re worthless is not to be trusted. A voice which tells you you’re never going to be enough is quite clearly made up of nothing more than LIES.

At this time I’m working to internalise these truths- because all of that negativity had gone some way to causing me to disassociate from myself. I often feel a little bit like an automaton. I get up, I move about, I do things, I talk and apparently interact, but I’m never as connected to myself as I could be. I do and say the right things, and I try to move at the right time, keep up with conversations and interactions- but whilst I”m doing this I’m also watching myself, observing myself. Waiting for myself to slip up. That voice went some way to convincing myself that I’m less than I am over the course of the last two years. Leaving that job in 2019, or having to leave that job, because the symptoms came back, knocked me such a long way. And in that long space the inner saboteur really went to work.

I want to get to a place where I’m no longer cooly observing myself, objectively watching my own actions and waiting for the moment when I slip up and I can sit back down in front of netflix. I want to throw myself into things again, I want to speed back up and absorb myself int he present moment, whether that be an interaction, or an activity, or simply a day spend doing small tasks. I want to redevelop a positive relationship with myself, free of the dark tones of that inner saboteur, that voice which pushed me way back inside my own head for a while. That cool objective sense of non existent self-worth needs to be warmed up and then thrown out- I know I have loads to offer, and I know I’ve got so much ahead of me. There will be a trillion and one moments in my future (perhaps even tomorrow!) to feel great, to feel worthy and interesting and fun.

I want to wrap my arms around myself in a hug, a defensive gesture born out of true optimism and self esteem.

I want to kick that self-saboteur to the kerb and leave it behind.

I’m worth more than that.

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