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What Do You Do When Self-Help Becomes Self-Harm?

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

I was 16 when I realized something was wrong.

I first became aware of the fact that I was depressed 10 years ago. Depression was a foreign concept to me because, y’know, Black millennial girl with Gen X and Boomer parents with generational trauma. I had a loss of interest, was always crying, and was generally a mess. My best friend said she thought I had depression, and I said, “No, I’m just going through a rough spell. I’m fine.” 

Obviously, and this is something she’s heard continually throughout our friendship, she was right and I was wrong. 

I was depressed. 

Beyond that, I had undiagnosed attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), severe levels of childhood trauma that finally started manifesting in my life, and debilitating anxiety. Suicidal ideation started fairly soon after that, and it hasn’t stopped since.

I was 20 when I finally started tackling my mental health issues. I hung out with people 10 years my senior who had a lot more experience when it comes to healing our mental wounds, and that set a major precedent for me in regards to how I treated my trauma. I became ambitious with it, always challenging myself, seeking therapy continually, and reading every self-help article and book I could get my hands on. 

Then it feels like the world caught on.

Today when you scroll through TikTok or Twitter, it’s nonstop self-help advice from everyone who can have a thought. Nonstop opinions on relationships, mental health, jobs, career, self-care, respectability, and worth — nonstop opinions that plague my feeds, and not wanting my trauma to define me, I jumped in. 

I soaked it all in like some mentally “fucked-up” sponge because everything I was hearing, reading, seeing, and feeling told me that I was messed up and didn’t have to be. If I journal, do talk therapy, communicate with my friends, and more, then maybe I won’t want to run from things the minute they feel uncomfortable or feel the need to buy shoes as a means to cope with a stressful life. 

I could be fixed, or so it appeared, and I wanted to be, and that’s where I messed up.

I’ve somehow reduced myself to nothing but my trauma.

There’s such a thing as too much self-help and being too aware that you start seeing things that may not be even a thing, to begin with.

Am I in love or am I just manic and this person has caught my interest? Am I potentially getting addicted to the highs and lows that come with relationship stuff? 

Am I having a good day or is this a hyperactivity spell due to my ADHD and thus I have way too much energy?

Does this make me uncomfortable or nervous, or is this some deep-rooted trauma that I didn’t know about and that I now have to spend hundreds of dollars on to unpack? 

By trying to separate myself from my trauma – by saying and living by the saying, “I’m more than my trauma,” – I’ve somehow reduced myself to nothing but my trauma.

The goal of healing is to live a life that’s healthy, but is it healthy to be so hyperaware of every thought that you have to the extent that you’re so paranoid about your feelings and reactions that you don’t let yourself feel or react at all? It’s this bizarre fear of being unhealthy, codependent, a narcissist, or any of the other buzzwords that TikTok and Twitter love and tend to falsely label people.

Why can’t I just be in love and feel those natural highs and lows that come with a new crush or partner? It’s OK to have a day where I’m happy and there’s no damn reason for it other than, “Oh wow! Today is great!” Something can make me uncomfortable because it’s actually just uncomfortable. It doesn’t have to be my “daddy issues.”

When self-help becomes self-harm, it’s gone too far, but how do we pull back and pursue this healthily where we still have room to be human? How do we practice “mindfulness” like all the “gurus” (bleh) want us to? Is it actually conceivable?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I am tired right now. I’m so tired of trying to be good, but I’m deathly afraid of what happens if I allow myself to be “bad.”

Originally published: April 20, 2022
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