The relationship that we have with ourselves is potentially the most important relationship we will ever have. It may sound pessimistic, but the relationship you share with yourself is the longest relationship you are going to have in your life. Through knowing and caring for the self, you are able to nourish your own growth in a way that only self-knowledge can create. Simone Weil, the French philosopher, wrote about the needs of the soul being just as important as the needs of the body. Just as our body needs food, so too does our soul. But what do we do if we can not provide for our own soul’s needs?
I was inspired to write today’s reflection by recent events in my life as well discussions with my psychiatrist. I was talking to Colin about how I feel frustrated at the constraints that are placed on me and how practical considerations prevent me from doing what I know is best for my mental health. Essentially, to use Weil’s analogy, I am blocked from providing for my soul’s needs. Colin raised a very useful point about how managing a positive relationship with the self is particularly difficult for those with mental illnesses because the self is by its very nature unstable and unpredictable. How does one even begin to have a positive relationship with the self when the self is unknowable due to inconsistencies.
In the case of my bipolar disorder, every time I think I have myself and my needs figured out something new crocks up. Furthermore, my illness interferes in the basic self-love practices needed to help manage the very same illness. I never really know what I am going to get when I wake up the morning. I live every day hoping I have done enough to maintain normality the next but never really knowing the answer. In this context, it is exceedingly difficult to love one’s self. In fact, one comes to associate the self with broken promises and false hopes. When the self is unpredictable and you just don’t know who you are messing with it is hard not to view the whole self-love process as a waste of time.
I realise today I am raising a lot of questions and not giving a lot of answers. But I honestly don’t think there is any clean cut way to love ones self, mental illness and all. But I can offer you the best answer I have come up with to date; kindness. I can not tell you how many times I have caught myself in the past beating myself up for my symptoms. I remember once, whilst manic for the for the first time in a long time, I became exceptionally paranoid and irritable whilst in the CBD. I thought everyone in the restaurant was out to get me. I was bordering on psychotic break. About a week later I was talking to someone about the experience saying how it ‘served me right for getting so cocky’. As though I deserved to experience such unpleasant symptoms because I had been enjoying normality so much. My believe was that I had been lax and was paying the price. This is just about the furthermost thing from a helpful self-dialogue you can imagine. I now practice kindness to myself daily.
It’s not easy, always trying to find the bright side of talk yourself out of negative comparisons and poor self-evaluations. But everyday I work on making my relationship with myself better by accepting what I can’t change, forgiving myself for any trespasses and encouraging myself to never stop trying to grow. Maintaining a positive relationship with the self can be difficult for anyone, let alone someone with a mental illness, but a daily dose of understanding goes a long way.