I do not feel like a real person

Hi Honor,

I follow you on Instagram and your anniversary post really struck a chord with me. That need for someone to make you "complete" is something I'm coming to terms with in myself; I'm trying desperately to overcome it because I don't know that there's any possible way I can have a healthy romantic relationship otherwise. I've been struggling with mental illness for nearly 15 years and after a short hospitalisation at the end of last year, was diagnosed with "borderline features", among other things. I've realised that my sense of self worth is absolutely dependent on external validation, and in particular, validation from a "romantic other" and if I don't have that - which currently I don't anymore - I'm left trying to distract myself or numb myself to intense emotional pain, feelings of worthlessness, self-hatred, anxiety and self-doubt, every single day. I do not feel like a real person. I've started seeing a new psych and I'm hoping she'll be able to help me through this, but honestly, it seems like an insurmountable task at present.

I'm sure your situation is different to mine but perhaps there are some similarities, too. Is there any advice you can offer to me? How did you learn to rely on yourself? How did you come to feel like a "whole person"? I would be really, really grateful to hear from you.

Elizabeth x


Hey Elizabeth,

Because I've wanted to write but honestly I haven't known what to say. I want to give you capital "A" Answers but I feel to do so would feel somehow dishonest or fraudulent. On the other hand, to not answer with "everything will be alright" makes me feel weird and responsible and not the inspiring beacon that some people pin me as sometimes. It's odd sometimes, feeling like I am being held up (in fact I do in my writing hold myself up) as Recovered, the role model, cause like, I'm still in it just the same sometimes, still wading through it to the thighs some days.

Sorry to go all ME ME ME on you, I've just been thinking a lot about this stuff lately. About how we tell our stories, about what stories we're supposed to tell, about what mental illness and recovery even really mean? It's getting very philosophical and existential and paradigm shift-ey and I fear, isn't very helpful for other people even though it preoccupies me greatly atm. 

So, to try to do your questions / situation justice:

I don't think that I will ever feel like a whole person. My post was a bit confusingly worded but what I meant was that I am whole in my incompleteness. I did this mindfulness exercise a little while ago focussing on anxiety and during it the instructor asked you to think about how many people right now are also having the same experience of anxiety. That notion, that image, of all the other people sitting in discomfort just the same, I found it deeply comforting in a weird way. Cause like, I think you can find warmth in the knowledge that your experiences are not unique, that your unwholeness is felt by everyone. That as humans we're not designed to feel complete and that that is what actually unites us all.

Now that was all very philosophical, but, the learning to rely on yourself is like, a bit more practical I suppose. I really genuinely used to believe that I was not capable of looking after myself. That, as you can imagine, makes for a pretty scary world. And sometimes, I still feel that way, usually when I'm not coping or feeling really upset. I really battled that whole war like any good researcher would, I built up evidence. I am a really big fan of small experiments built up over time to challenge your own fears. So for me many of my projects are always about challenging your fears, but I think it's something anyone can do and can be really helpful. I think it's also really creative and deeply satisfying. For example when I was afraid that I would never be able to have a full-time job I found a way to do a full-time job for a month (keeping experiments short is v helpful). When I was afraid I couldn't look after money I sat down and made a budget. I believe greatly in challenging your own ideas of your own capacities. 

With regards to the romantic other element, hey, I don't think I actually know. Romantic relationships are things I still find difficult, and it's all process and reorientation and rephilosophising every day. But I do know that it's difficult to get through all the things if you don't think very much of yourself / if you feel not capable / if you feel unwhole in a not whole way. The external validation thing is a hard one. I think that I actually have that same problem and I think how I deal with that is to find ways to congratulate myself. That sounds kind of innane and stupidly simplistic but I think that internal validation is not really a skill that is encouraged by society, and as such lots of us are wandering around post-school and post-uni (if that's your thing) going "how am I suppose to know that I am worthy?" The truth of course being that we're all worthy, and that we're also all not worthy. Like, we live in such a world where worth and success and meaning are so often so externally validated by prizes and awards and achievements that it's really hard to actually like, like yourself some days.

Louis CK has this great bit that I often think of where he says something along the lines of "do nothing, then like yourself. if you can do that you've won". By that metric I am constantly losing, and I've been thinking about it a lot lately, my constant searching for Thing To Do or Be. It makes me feel like I'm not actually living my life but that I'm just a spectator, or that I'm just reacting to things happening. Again, this is a constant sort of reprocess, but honestly I've found great solace in just planning things, and feeling like i'm taking control, finding small ways to tell myself I'm doing a good job. Small shit like that.

I don't know if any of this is super helpful. I don't know heaps about your situation but I do relate to your emotional pain. That shit is scary as fuck frankly, when you're in the thick of it. I remember my mindfulness teacher once telling me that I had to "sit with it" and I wanted to punch her in the face. One thing that I do find helpful - which might sound real hippy dippy or unhelpful or whatever - is to try to be curious about the whole feeling. Usually with shit that's uncomfortable I'm trying so hard to run away from whatever is happening that I actually can't feel anything. Sometimes I like to think of myself as an anthropologist, just curiously observing all hell break loose. Like I'm my own Jane Goodall inside of myself. Watching calmly, patiently.

I hope some of that was helpful and practical and not just mindless semi-philosophical ramblings. Let me know your thoughts / questions / ramblings. I like ramblings.

Hope the day is treating you kindly xx