I feel like everywhere I look there are inspirational pictures telling people to trust their gut. To believe the vibes you feel. This mantra is proclaimed in a positive way all across social media. It’s about encouraging people to embrace their instincts and listen to their intuition.
It seems like such a positive message…So why does it make me feel bad about myself?
The thing is, as a person with several mental illnesses, I can’t trust my gut. My gut lies to me more often than it doesn’t. So when I see these messages about trusting your instincts and intuition I feel like a failure for not being able to do so.
Let’s talk through an example. I live with Complex-PTSD caused largely by sexual abuse. When I meet a man my gut tells me not to trust him. That he is going to hurt me. That I shouldn’t be alone with him. That I should fear him. All of my instincts point to a giant neon sign that screams ’danger’.
Now, in certain circumstances this gut feeling might make sense. If for instance, I met a man in a dark street at night and he wouldn’t leave me alone. However, when we are talking about me meeting my new boss and not being able to look him in the eye for long because I fear him…Then we are talking about some warped gut instincts.
Because trauma does that. It rewires you. The body actually remembers how it felt in certain instances and jumps back to that feeling when it feels threatened. This means that my body can literally lie to me and tell me that I am in danger when I am not.
It’s not just my trauma that lies to me. In the case of my social anxiety I can become convinced of all sorts of warped things. I remember once when I walked into a conference networking session and I was obsessed with the idea that everyone thought I was hideous and wanted nothing to do with me. I can not stress to you enough how I felt this feeling deep in my gut and I thought it was fact as a result. This can be the danger of trusting your gut when you have a mental illness.
Which brings me to my Bipolar (listing my diagnoses feels like a workout). When you have Bipolar you can never trust what your energy tells you. I was once given a very good piece of advice in relation to Bipolar. They said ‘Whatever you feel like you want to do, you actually need to the opposite’. So if I’m becoming elevated in mood my instinct is to stay up all night, workout for 4 hours straight, paint my room and get a new tattoo. What I actually need is to relax and try and get some sleep. At the opposite end of the spectrum, if I am depressed my gut will tell me to sleep all day and wallow in self-pity. But what I actually need is to get active and get outside.
So you can see why phrases such as ‘trust your gut’ and ‘listen to your instincts’ would frustrate me. It is just another harsh daily reminder of all the ways that I am different. I mean, it’s pretty innocent advice. I feel like it shouldn’t be that hard. And yet it is for me. My gut can’t be trusted.
It is also a harsh reminder of how often the rest of society doesn’t consider the needs and experiences of people with mental illnesses (as well as other disabilities and illnesses). It is alienating when people speak these words to me without considering how impossible it actually is for me to trust my gut.
So next time you feel yourself about to give advice about trusting your instincts consider your audience. Perhaps your harmless little platitude may be more harmful than you expect.