I’ve managed to get a bit closer to my creative mojo over the last few weeks and it’s led me to think it might be an appropriate time to talk about my mental health…again.
A recent conversation on a bad (actually terrible) day left me considering whether or not anyone loved or cared for me. I cried, sobbed and wailed for the worry and fear that I was alone and had nothing…again.
I guess having struggled on my own in the past, having lost the safety and security of my old life, I find myself believing it could easily happen again. No one wants me, so I’m going to end up a lonely, single, poor, disabled and mentally challenged woman with 10 cats, who all have clothes and full names, and act as my only friends.
A little joke to cover up how extreme my paranoia can be, convincing me that something terrible is inevitably going to happen.
Specifically I’m going to talk about rejection.
It’s something that often takes over my brains narrative and can cause huge amounts of paranoia and anxiety. For me, sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in rejection, but in my calmer moments, like now, I realise that it’s all spawned by a lack of confidence. I possess the ability to have little or no conviction. I possess the ability to fill in the blanks of silence with a belief it comes from an approaching rejection. I possess the ability to believe no one wants me or the skills and presence of my being.
I possess the ability to ALWAYS believe the worst.
Speaking to a therapist recently helped me discover that grief (a post for another day) and rejection are the hands turning my wheel. They are in control because I believe that’s all I’ll ever get or deserve.
Do you ever find yourself believing that the worst case scenario is the ONLY possible outcome of a situation? Do you lack the ability to reason with yourself and believe that other outcomes are just as possible?
If yes, then “Hi. I’m Steph and I’m a rejection-oholic. Welcome to the imaginary circle of millions of others, around the world, living in constant fear of what life will do next.”
If you’re still unsure then maybe some examples might help you realise or maybe ring a bell or two.
Real life rejection paranoia
Recently I had to write a piece of work and submit it for review by both my tutor and my peers. As someone who frequently enters competitions and is facing a daily barrage of critique, this SHOULD be childs play for me. But after I posted the work, the silence got longer and longer. Hours turned to days and eventually several weeks passed with no one saying a word.
It starts by provoking a little tiny gnat in my head. It’s quiet but still annoying because it shows it’s face at the worst possible moment. The gnat turns in to a fly and is far more audible. The buzzing of its wings is filling the real-world silences and I end up never getting a break from sounds. Then, at worst, the fly becomes a wasp. The wasp is angry and vindictive. It stings without reason and every sting makes the overall pain (or paranoia) even more real and even more valid.
In the end I was petrified and only after a real-life conversation with my partner did I pluck up the courage to ask why no one commented on my work? Was it just awful and no one knew what to say? Did everyone hate me?
I received a response quickly, one, two then three people all saying the same thing – they loved it and didn’t know what to critique. They, like me, are new to giving and receiving ideas on something so personal. I was first to post and no one had the confidence to say anything.
See how I blew that whole scenario out of proportion because I couldn’t bring myself to ask a question? Weirdly, I’d convinced myself that my own evaluation of someone elses thoughts was the right evaluation.
Rejection from the unaware
Another very different example is the relationship I have with my daughter. I’ve mentioned her before, she’s 5 and autistic with social communication difficulties. She’s incredible and never sees a problem, it’s just another thing she’ll fight to get around. I’m incredibly proud that at less than 6 years old her attitude is always ‘fight’ not ‘flight’.
Even knowing all this, on a day when she’s having trouble (sometimes a meltdown, sometimes she’s very meek and quiet, sometimes she just wants to get her own way) I tell myself it’s because she doesn’t love me. The almighty effort we both make to give her the best life possible is just white noise to her. She wants someone else as a mum because she hates me and I’m doing a terrible job. When I’m level-headed and able to see the wood for the trees, I know that’s a ridiculous accusation. She’s 5 and has no comprehension of how her mood effects the people around her. She doesn’t mean to be quiet, angry and pick favourites. She’s a kid.
But I also know that on a day when I’m already consumed by self loathing, I’ll tell myself she dislikes me over and over again until it’s the only thing I can hear and my disappointment in myself causes a tsunami of tears behind the bathroom door.
I am, without question, one of the most scared and paranoid people on this planet. I’m so afraid of other people that I stay indoors for months on end. But strangely I can still see when someone else is struggling with confidence and help them to overcome the problem. I can’t do the same for myself. I’m sure many of you find that a challenge too and understand where I’m coming from, even if you do think it’s a bit extreme.
Fake rejection from your love
My next victim of my overwhelming fear of rejection, is my partner. Together for nearly a decade, with a child we managed to spawn and raise (pretty well so far) and thousands, maybe millions of memories we’ve created over the years from the incredibly happy to painfully sad.
We’ve stood next to each other through thick and thin. He’s still here despite my eroding mental health, helping me up when I fall and cheering me on when I win. He’s an awesome guy and I’m incredibly lucky. ❤️
Despite this, despite the strength and longevity of our relationship, if he’s quiet one day, or looks at his phone when I’m trying to get his attention, or goes out for a few hours with a friend…I’m sat in our bedroom quietly convincing myself that he’s planning to leave me. He’s met someone else. He doesn’t love me any more.
I know that this is CRAZY, undeserved and a volcanic reaction to a tiny situation. Actually, often it’s no situation at all, just something I’ve invented. He deserves my trust and I’ve had no reason not to give it to him.
That’s why I never say anything to any of these people. My fear of rejection is very real, but I’m fortunate to still be a little paranoid about my own paranoia (wrap your head around that!). So, in fear that I’m wrong and might end up upsetting someone, I don’t tell them I’m paranoid and, as a result, the only person effected by it is me.
It goes both ways though.
In the past, I’ve been the one doing the rejecting. How did that feel for the other person?
My heart has always been fragile, so boyfriends always left me. In every young relationship I believed I could never live without them, so in the end they always did the dumping (more reasons to believe the worst).
But i’ve been very comfortable ending relationships with friends and even relatives in the past. Looking back I can clearly see a moment in time when I decided to take back some control and drop people that weren’t having a positive impact on my life any more. It’s really sad to think about because in pretty much all cases these are people I still care for and love today. Some of them have since died. But when I realised they were having a negative impact, I gave up.
There were many of these scenarios over the last 20 years (and they are partly private) but examples include friends that disappeared, drunks, nasty people, people using me for money, constant one-sided emotional support, men using me with no intention of developing any sort of relationship, silent people during the most difficult periods of my life and people that were just plain fucking toxic.
I look back, still sad that I felt I had no choice, but at the time it was the right decision. My paranoia made me wonder why these people behaved this way and why they didn’t realise that their actions (or inactions) were upsetting for me.
There’s no question I was probably at fault too. Maybe I forgot a birthday or missed another event? Maybe I was annoying or talking too much about something that caused friction? My self-awareness during that time wasn’t as good and, if I’m honest, in most cases I don’t know or understand what happened.
However, I’m enough of an adult to realise I was likely to have been wrong too or made some mistakes. Maybe they feel the same? Who knows.
But I do think I’ve always tried and offered chances, often just to be treated badly or with no respect for a second time. I’m not keen on allowing people to make me look foolish more than twice, so when that happens it’s a one-way-ticket situation.
Again, that could be bad judgement on my part, but I believe we all have to have limits and boundaries and when they are crossed it’s ok to make a decision.
The truth is, I know I need to stop looking for rejection and start noticing the happiness, pride, contentedness and, frankly, bliss that I should experience with my few remaining treasured relationships. I watch other people experience serious hardship and pain and thank my lucky stars that I have the love I have at home. Some awful things are happening to genuinely good people, I wonder why for them, I wonder what I can do to help and then I wonder when it’s my turn. It’s not easy to see the positives when you’ve spent 40 years preparing for disaster.
And that’s all this boils down to. My brain is in a permanent state of readiness for incoming problems. I live with plans ready for the worst-case-scenario and I’d feel incredibly vulnerable without these plans in place. Ways I would manage if life didn’t pan out the way I was hoping. What I should do if the status quo is destroyed. Paranoia makes me ready. Just in case.
It would be an absolute pleasure, a life goal, to find acceptance that at least SOME things might be ok. I don’t need to worry about them or waste brain power inventing painful and difficult scenarios for myself. Realising I can let relationships bob along because their current status is going to continue, would be a fucking delight.
So I’ll continue to work on my paranoia and want to make it a goal for 2022 to trust people who have earned it. There aren’t many, but I acknowledge that my partner definitely deserves a break. He’ll be over the moon to read this.
A note on love…
Having only a few people doesn’t automatically mean you have less love. The amount of love is really spawned by the quality of the love. If only one person loves you, but that love is perfect and makes you feel whole, what more could you possibly need?
…if we could find a way to love ourselves first, surely we would never need anyone and the worst case scenario wouldn’t matter? Relationships wouldn’t have the pressure of commitment applied and the ease of just loving and being loved would be much better handled, with more gratitude, less worry and less fear.
Paranoia about your love for yourself will never exist. So look in the mirror and realise that the person who faces you will always be there knowing the things that make you amazing, kind, worthy of love and (most importantly) incredibly sexy.
You. Love. You.
Let’s talk about the picture. This one migrated from something really simple to an elaborate mess that I’m in love with.
Thinking about rejection gave me no ideas for things I could draw or that felt appropriate to attach to this post. It took a while, but I wondered what a depiction of the freedom of rejection might be. It’s obviously a beautiful, random, flailing, flappy butterfly 🦋.
So I started with one butterfly. It wasn’t enough, so one became 4. Then I wanted a background, so the feeling of a forest spawned. The sprawling mess of leaves and branches felt like a representation of the messy confusion and indirection of fearing an incoming rejection.
It was missing something, so I found a cute deer 🦌 on Etsy (credit to original artist who didn’t respond), made lots of design changes so it was more ‘Steph’ and threw it in the middle. The deer represents something cute and a well-sized addition to a drawing with a gap.
Sometimes you just need to fill the gap.