I spent a cumulative fifteen or so years in desperate anxiety and daunting depression. For years, I thought it was normal to feel as if life had to be suffered through, never fully enjoyed due to awareness that whatever brief stint of joy I experienced would soon become eclipsed by another devastating blow.
Friends would laugh, carry on seemingly unmarred by life’s debacles, weightlessly sailing through the day-to-day conundrum of the existence of pain and pleasure. I, however, was unable to approach anything resembling carefree happiness. Until one day I was.
Things began going well, at least in a minimal, life-is-now-tolerable sort of way. Nights were spent being able to sleep, boys were proposing marriage, employers were expressing interest—life was finally budding, and so was I.
Yet just as I made final alterations on my wedding dress and accepted a well-paying job in LA, not life, but rather I, sabotaged the successes I had so readily awaited. I put my finger down my throat to look smaller. I drank vodka straight from the bottle to avoid the annoying waiting period for getting intoxicated. I prompted paltry fights for the sake of argument. That beautiful life I was so eagerly on the fringes of? It went away fairly quickly.
It seemed to be out of my control not to make these debilitating decisions that would so negatively affect my life. I found over the following years, unfortunately, that this became a pattern rather than an abnormal solitary instance. It became a cycle in my life that whenever I began to succeed, I would immediately begin to do anything in my power to ruin that which I had succeeded in. The ruination took form in a myriad of ways, but one thing always remained—my inability to be happy and content without the feeling I should somehow not have access to such feelings, in turn unraveling the things that had given me the feelings in the first place.
From a young age, I felt I didn’t quite deserve good things. I’ve spent countless hours in therapy and treatment trying to resolve when and where exactly this presumption came from, but have seldom found a consoling answer. It’s taken me a few years at this point to honestly seek an answer that satisfies me, that can combat my proclivity to act in such a way, instead of resorting to a mindset that this is “just how things are, I guess.”
What I’ve realized is that I was untreated for my mental illnesses for so long that I developed into a person with certain beliefs about life that were founded in the facts of what had come before. As a teen, I was outgoing and confident externally, while my inward disposition was despondent and full of fear. I was cowardly and afraid of every change and new beginning.
I held back in certain aspects in which I could have excelled, simply out of the anxiousness I would fail if I tried. I sought solace in unhealthy and unmanageable relationships because they mimicked the tumultuous interior of my mind—battering, self-deprecating, insidious assumptions about my person. I silently suffered in the hopes that I would be saved in the future, yet just not quite then. I was perpetuating a mindset that transitioned into hard-set beliefs and ethos as time went on. Funny how that happens…
Though I was unaware that I had already been sabotaging myself for years, I continued this progressive degeneration of understanding that happiness was attainable if mindsets could be controlled, and thus altered. As I began to peak in my maturity, my beliefs became concrete, set in stone, unchangeable, or so it seemed. Worse than that, though, was the familiarity and comfort I soon found in these twisted beliefs. Feeling disjointed and desperate was my norm for so long that the very prospect of joy was off-limits to my brain.
When I experienced moments of happiness or positive progression, I felt out-of-place and unsure of how to handle such emotions. The greater the joy became, the more I felt I had stumbled upon something so unfamiliar it must be avoided.
Naturally, my only instinctual option was to eradicate the things in my life that had brought positivity in order to maintain the negative equilibrium I had come to call normal and “right.”
At my worst, crying over losses and poorly rooted judgments, wondering if things would ever turn around again, I felt both miserable and comfortable, because this was my go-to feeling, the one I had grown up knowing so well. Though it was an obtusely sick cycle, it made sense. I was seeking what I felt I deserved and getting exactly that in return.
I’ve noticed that I’m not alone in the process of self-sabotage. It’s actually commonplace if you talk to enough people about it candidly. As humans, we seek out that which is comfortable. We pursue things that give us a sense of normality and predictability.
For some, the norm is joy and a reach toward success. These people tend to excel, then continue to challenge themselves to reap even more heightened rewards. For others, the norm is rejection and self-dejection, which causes them to assume that success is unwarranted and happiness abrasive.
I was the latter, feeling more unsettled and unsure of myself with every accolade and achievement. To fail, mope and isolate was more agreeable to my psyche than to succeed, celebrate and attract others with positive energy. I lived many years under the mindset that by failing I was fulfilling the destiny meant for me.
Recently, I’ve been working on the redirection of thought. Realizing that the average person both feels and accepts happiness rather easily, I made a pact with myself that I would strive for the same outlook. It was miserable at first, feeling impossible and ridiculous to think I could mind-control myself into a new way of thinking. Yet with persistence, I slowly began to see that with each success I embraced and enjoyed, a new success emerged soon after.
Optimism begets achievement, given if we’re inclined to anticipate an ensuing positive event, whatever actualizes will be approached with a larger capacity for appreciation and acceptance. This is another pattern that can manifest itself habitually, if we surrender to it. After consciously deciding that I would be positive and thankful, instead of pessimistic and resentful, I found that each new development in my life was exciting and manageable. In turn, my optimism has continually increased, sprouting even more positive outcomes as it does. I never thought this shift possible, but with the dedication to meditate on joy and acceptance, I have found an entirely new frame of mind within reach.
I feel that I’m now on the other side of self-sabotaging behavior, though it naturally crops up occasionally. I’ve found that as unfamiliar and undeserved happiness may feel in my brain, it is okay to feel it. Doing things that reap reward might feel out of character, but it can also feel enlivening and enjoyable if I begin to acknowledge that life is meant to be lived in such a manner.
Though I might cower from phone calls that are, in nature, validating and worthy of appreciation, I now make a conscious effort to answer them, knowing that it’s perfectly normal for someone to call because they desire my company, rather than disdain a recent foible. Instead of skipping of the first day of work at a promising new job out of fear that I’ll err somewhere along the way, I embrace the opportunity to grow, and embark on an adventure that has the capability to entice my appetite for promotion and success. By challenging the way of thinking I became astoundingly accustomed to, I’m slowly retraining my mind that there are ways other than depression to approach that which happens in life.
Our brains are incredible machines, capable of reprogramming. If we can learn to examine our core beliefs instead of taking them as absolute, immutable fact, we have the power to redesign the entire paradigm through which we see the world and its influences. My brain started out a bit wonky, a tad strange and despairing. I’ve found its becoming a more complex entity of itself, allowing for pain to represent one area of the human experience, yet joy to creep in too, more often. I’ve been known to master sabotaging myself in a negative capacity, now I’m merely doing the reverse effect. I’m tricking myself into being happy, and I think I’m doing a rather sterling job at it.