Monday, January 6, 2014
Peace Be To You
As far as I can tell, all people strive for something. At its most basic level, that drive seems to be a desire for internal peace. Of course, that desire is pursued through whatever means each individual thinks will achieve it:
"When I have the respect of my peers, I will be truly at peace."
"When God and I are at peace fully, then I will be at true peace with myself."
"When I am financially independent, then I will be at peace..."
...and so on and so forth, with each aim having a lesser or greater effect on how the person feels about themselves. Some are very helpful, while others are detrimental in the long run.
This drive never seems to go away. People can resign themselves to failure, or attempt to forget, or mask their need with self-medication, but I honestly don't think there is a person in the world who would refuse to be at peace should they find the way to achieve it. Our hearts may be restless until they rest in God, as St Augustine says, but I think our hearts cannot rest in God until we have learnt to love His creation which is ourselves. And each person has a deep need to accept and better themselves.
I know I am not at peace. I want to be a better person, more generous, loving and intelligent. I want to look at myself and think: that is Felicity. She's a good person, who has made peace with her past, has a purpose in her present and has a plan for her future. She's good and funny and does all the right stuff. I like her.
I don't look at myself like that, however, and maybe I never have. I strive, and have always striven, through many misguided attempts, to be a better person, or at least to forget I cared, but I can't. As I began my teens, I wanted to be perfect. Throughout my teen years, I think I would have settled for normality or stability. As I ended my teens, I thought I would achieve peace through sacrificing my life in the convent. But I failed at any of those things.
At all times, no matter what I thought I was striving for, I vacillated between two behaviours. One was this intense effort - a huge determination to do whatever it took to be successful. I would do whatever it took to do the right thing. If that meant leaving home to go to the convent, then so be it. Whatever it took, I would be ready. I was a superhero, an over-achiever, a perfectionist and a martyr.
And then there was the other behaviour, the one that emerged when these superhuman efforts failed. I would cry, and wallow in self-pity. I would mourn my failure and then try to numb the sting with escapism and self-medication. I would read obsessively and cram sugary foods into my mouth. And at my darkest hours, I would dream of ending it all, of finally turning my back on my life's struggles and going where there would be no more decisions and all successes and failures are finally weighed.
In my early twenties, I was diagnosed with mental illness, and the roots of these behaviours became more clear. But understanding my failures didn't make them sting less. I became angry that a mental illness seemed to be destroying my efforts to do anything. By the time I started reaching an understanding of myself, I was housebound, so anxious I couldn't even go to the kitchen to make myself a sandwich if someone else was in the house to see me.
It's hard being a driven person without the tools to succeed. To have a massive desire to be good, loved and successful, and then to find that my ability to achieve seems to be far smaller than my desire or efforts! It seemed that no matter how loudly I proclaimed my desire to do well, I would always end up being betrayed by emotions that were too strong, and behaviours that were too far-ingrained.
But I began to wonder how important these things had wanted to achieve even were. So I was never going to be perfect, or normal, or emotionally stable. Were they going to make me happy? What was? And I realised I wanted to be at peace, just as I was.
I still strive. These days, however, my plans involve a series of very mundane and often seemingly simple tasks. I realise I'm not going to become happy in one enormous effort, and that those efforts set me up to be catapulted into a terrible emotional state. Today, I strive to build myself up in little steps. These little steps include making dinner, doing washing or making sure I take my medication - they are that small.
These little steps are important. I try to do things well, so I can be proud of them. I try to build on skills. I dream of being a regular person, with normal emotions, and a job, and stability and responsibility. But in the meantime, I want to be happy with how I am right now too. I want to be happy that I am trying, maybe not always succeeding, but always trying to hold onto the knowledge that I am going forwards in tiny little steps.
Mental illness has stopped me from doing many things in life. I don't have a degree, or a driver's license or a house or a job. In fact, I look like a failure from an outside perspective. But it also made me re-examine what I truly wanted out of life. It made me focus on what is most important to me. I want to be at peace. I want to have good relationships, to live a life without guilt and be working towards a better future.
I might have a lot of obstacles in my way, but I am going to overcome them, one teeny-tiny step at a time. And even if I can't, I'm a good person for wanting to try.