Where Does Compassion Fit?

I really started to learn about compassion when I made a decision to love someone deemed by others to be unworthy of that love. I started to understand the cost of compassion when I was judged on that decision.  When I was going to be loved on the basis of that decision.  Then I knew that compassion is easy when people are nice, animals are cute and cuddly, and when no one’s done anything that might harm us.

When others stand and literally spit at you and call you names, then you start to realise that sometimes compassion has a cost.  Yet I still want to be a human being who has compassion for my fellow beings.  It’s simply a harder battle.  It simply makes me be sure of what (and who) I believe in.

We talk of compassion as something that rolls off the tongue, but I’m starting to realise that those who practise it most pay a price when they choose to exercise it to those who the rest of the world deem unworthy.

“Anyone can slay a dragon …but try waking up every morning and loving the world all over again. That’s what takes a real hero.” 

― Brian Andreas

I thought I started to learn about compassion as a teen.  I don’t remember it being raised earlier, although I am sure it was implied.  When people hurt me, I was told to have compassion for them.  Usually that compassion came with the word ‘Christian‘ in front of it, although I have never understood why.  My experience is that when compassion is prefaced by religion then it sadly comes with conditions.  Some people are deemed unworthy of compassion simply because they choose to be different.  That just screams ‘wrong’ to me.  It did then, and it does even more so now.

But still, that’s what I was taught.  Put aside my own hurts and be compassionate towards the ones who had hurt me.  As a teen that was really hard, especially when I had been hurt badly.  It seemed to me that no one was being compassionate toward me.  My hurt didn’t matter and I learned from that, rightly or wrongly, that I didn’t matter.  I couldn’t understand people who loved me telling me in this way that I didn’t matter. Although they claimed that’s not what they were doing.

As I’ve grown I have distanced myself from the prefaced type of compassion.  It seemed false to me, although I hasten to add that there are some very loving and caring people in any community.  It just seemed inconsistent and uninterested in my needs or my beliefs.

Now I see compassion as something that all human beings should have for all other beings.  But as I’ve already suggested, it’s perhaps hard to be compassionate when you’ve been hurt.  That said, I don’t believe it’s impossible.

Last year I was hurt very badly by someone.  While I was still picking up the pieces, that person accused me of hypocrisy.  I was accused of writing in my blog about compassion, yet not showing it to the person who hurt me.  Did I laugh or did I cry?  I admit that accusation stopped me in my tracks, because I knew it was something I had blogged about and I needed to question my actions since.  For a while there, it was difficult to write at all.  I also knew that the person accusing me had hurt me bad yet I had done nothing to deserve it.

I eventually came to the conclusion, that I hadn’t been hypocritical.  The person who had hurt me was entitled as anyone to my compassion, but I was also entitled to theirs.  Is that confusing?  Hopefully not.  It came back to that issue of how to be compassionate when you’ve been hurt.

Actually it led to a realisation that I needed to be able to forgive their actions/words in order to have compassion.  It didn’t come immediately, because I still hurt like hell, but it has come since.  It didn’t fix the relationship (that won’t happen) but it gave me some peace, and actually, that was enough.

As human beings I think that we make judgements about who does, and doesn’t deserve compassion.  I’m not convinced that the judgement is mine to make.  Who am I to determine who deserves compassion?

The reason for this post comes from things I’ve seen, heard and read lately, on a number of different subjects.  Watching people determine that they have the right to destroy another person’s life rather than have compassion.  I’m not referring to anything specific because it’s there every day, anywhere we look.  Often that destruction occurs of people who are unknown to the destroyer.  They don’t even understand the effects of their actions.  They simply don’t know who they choose to destroy.

I’m not perfect.  I make mistakes, and maybe at times I don’t have as much compassion as I should for someone.  We’re all human.  And when we’ve been hurt, compassion seems next to impossible.  It makes me so sad how easily, we as humans, can set out to destroy others, and then we congratulate ourselves on a job well done without stopping to think of the price, without stopping to think of the alternative… compassion.

So you think I’m crazy?  No.  Just thinking about another way of being.

It’s not my right to destroy another, but I believe it is my job to offer compassion where I can.  I was told recently that if I had compassion for a person who had hurt me, then I hadn’t suffered enough at their hands.  The person who said it hardly knew me and certainly didn’t know of what I had, or hadn’t suffered.  I disagreed strongly with that view for so many reasons.  But mostly I just don’t see it as my role to destroy others.

I know all too well how hard it is to be compassionate towards a person who has hurt me.  Being hurt doesn’t give me the right to hurt back, although I know that’s what comes naturally.  I think if someone has hurt me and I find it hard to give compassion to them, I need to back off  (and probably shut my mouth) rather than seek to destroy.  Eventually I will work to a point of peace again, and maybe then I can find that compassion.

In case you’re wondering, this is all me just wondering out loud.  I’m working out something for myself.  I’m not saying that it’s how it has to be for anyone else.  Although I think for me, it has to be.

“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” 

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Play Nicely With The Other Kids

As a child I am sure I was told by my parents on many occasions to ‘play nicely with the other kids‘.  And that’s what I did.  Mostly.  I wasn’t one of the popular kids in the playground, but was one of the next tier down.  The middle of the road kids who were okay.  I had lots of friends, no real enemies except for the one class bully, and even her, I tried to be friends with.  I guess I wanted to be friends with everyone, rightly or wrongly, and pretty much, I achieved that.

It’s not an easy task to get along with everyone, and now to be honest, I wouldn’t be so open.  Now I’m more selective, but as I child I did what I was told to do.  What’s more, at that time as a young girl, I didn’t have a mental illness that contributed to how I ‘got along‘.  Now I do.

You don’t have to look very far on the internet to come across the sites that talk about what awful people those of us with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are.  Those sites, which I’m not going to quote or name, will tell you that Borderline’s are really hard work to have in either your family or circle of friends.  Actually they probably warn you not to have Borderline’s in your circle of friends.  And do what you can to distance them from your family.  They’re simply too much work, and you’re just going to get hurt.  Sites by health professionals are also in abundance telling you that Borderlines are the worst patients you could have, and actually if you are a health professional, those sites would probably just tell you to steer clear of us Borderlines.

Those sites are ones that I purposely avoid, as they simply contribute to the large amount of stigma that exists toward Borderlines.  And actually, that is not what we need.  Apparently we have low emotional intelligence.  We are also impulsive and  aggressive.  We act like children and we are very sensitive to rejection.  Basically we are too hard work, and as a non-Borderline you would probably best to run a mile (or 100 miles) from us.

I’ve been aware of those attitudes to Borderlines for a long time, but have wondered how much of that I am seen to fit with.  I know BPD is a difficult illness to live with (for the person who has it!) but I’m not convinced there is the need for such strong feeling towards us.

I know that I don’t fit the classic mold of a Borderline.  My psychiatrist would go as far as saying that possibly I don’t have BPD.  I can’t afford to keep visiting psychiatrists until I get a definite answer, but so far BPD does seem to fit for me.

But while I played with everyone in the playground, and in my early adulthood was referred to as being a ‘people person’ who got on with anyone (and I mean anyone!),  now I start to wonder.  I’m too much of a recluse for a ‘people person’ anymore. I prefer my own company, and my own world.  I am an introvert naturally, but more and more I prefer being alone.  There are lots of reasons for that, and I admit that one is to do with repeatedly being let down by other people.

The people around me in my life actually don’t seem to want to be near me.  I’m not feeling sorry for myself, or having a pity party.  I just don’t get on with people as well as I did.  And those in my life seem more interested in distancing themselves from me.  We just don’t fit anymore.

Earlier this year I was victim of some lies told about me.  It was a situation where there was very little I could do about it.  I simply had to let it be, and hope that people worked out the truth in time.  I became quite paranoid, mostly because I didn’t know who had been told the lies.  I became very wary of people.  Another reason to withdraw, and I admit I found it hard not to do so.

I continue to be wary of people.  It’s hard to know who I can trust, and it’s hard to know who would choose to be on my side.  Would they bat for my team?  Somehow life has changed so that the people I thought would bat for my team, I suspect won’t anymore. And that is rather sad to find that those I thought would always be there have different lives and lifestyles from me, and we just no longer fit.  Time changes.  And time has changed me.  I choose to be alone, so much more than I did.  My own world knows my name, and I can be content there.  Can’t I?

Has BPD changed me?  Have the events in my life changed me?  Maybe it is the other people themselves that have changed, but then it’s always easier to blame the psych patient, isn’t it?  I don’t mean to accuse anyone of anything in this post, but rather I simply see that there has been a radical shift in my life.  I’m actually okay with the solitude I have now, but I do wonder what happened to the little girl in the playground who was friends with everyone.

“I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity.” 

― Albert Einstein

Disappointed By Humanity

It sounds serious, doesn’t it?  Disappointed by Humanity. But I can’t really complain.  According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I have all that I need.  I have food, I have shelter and I have clothing.  I have a lot of other things rated on his Hierarchy, so I have little reason to complain.  And one thing that has struck me very firmly in the past few days is that a lot of people have it a whole lot worse than me.  I have every reason to be thankful.

But I have been thinking recently after saying in recent posts that I have been going through a period of depression.  I’m not so sure it is depression after all.  It feels a little different from other times, and while I haven’t headed to my doctor to get his opinion (he’s not usually that interested in either my symptoms or in giving his opinion, so why would I waste my money?), I have been thinking it through.

If it’s not depression, then what is it?  It could be sadness, and I’m not sure where one draws the line between sadness and depression.  But I know that I have been very sad.  Day after day.  So maybe it’s that.

Then I started thinking about the ‘great’ DSM-V (the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.) which came out in May, 2013.  I’m not fanatical enough to start wading my way through that but I know there are a few new ‘disorders’ that get a mention in this latest version.

Grief, for example.  Some people claim that grief is now a separate disorder in itself, rather than previously be recognised under Major Depressive Disorder.  Now there is a two-week cut off.  Somehow after two weeks, we are meant to have moved on from our grief, and so I guess anyone still grieving is regarded as having depression.  The key indicator in my small search was that “The grieving individual typically maintains the hope that things will get better”  I presume that if they switch over that two weeks, then they lose hope and fall into depression.  Really?  Hmm.

I admit that it is well over two years since my father died suddenly.  Yes, I said two years, not two weeks.  I still grieve for my father.  Right now I am missing him terribly and would love one of his hugs, let alone a long chat about… well, everything.  Dad was my best friend.  Interestingly he became a better father to me as I became an adult, than when I was a child.  As a child he wasn’t there.  He was pursing his career, vocation, calling or simply his desire to help people.

I don’t imagine I am going to simply stop grieving for a man who made such a difference in my life.  A man who taught me what life was about, and perhaps more importantly, what mattered.

So back to the DSM-V and I admit I’m not sure then, when to diagnose grief or depression in terms of Dad.  They don’t make it easy.  I guess that’s what doctors are paid for.  Not mine though.  He’s there to take my blood pressure, ask me how my mother is (also a patient of his) and send me on my way.  And no, I’m not in the least bit skeptical and dissatisfied with this ‘service’.  And if you believe that, well… another post.

But anyway… I’m still not clear about what is going on for me right now.  Until I had this thought… disappointment is a large factor in how I’ve been feeling.  I am disappointed by many things, how I get treated sometimes (like doctor’s, for example), disappointed when a friend lies to me, disappointed when I suspect others have been less than truthful with me, disappointed when others don’t treat their animals they way I think they should, disappointed by having a hope and a dream and having it whipped away, disappointed when I see my friends being hurt terribly, disappointed by seeing bureaucracy (manned by people) disregard the needs of residents still trying to recover in a quake damaged city.  Yes, I’m disappointed and mostly by humanity.  People let me down.  They might not let me down personally but the way they act towards either me, or other people/creatures who matter to be lets me down.

My mother always used to tell me that my standards were too high.  It was a criticism.  Maybe she was right (but please don’t tell her I said that!) but I always thought she should be grateful if her daughter had high standards.  I think  my father had high standards and that is perhaps where I got it from.  But he had the ability to let it go when people disappointed him.  He had sufficient compassion to let their humanity be.  I don’t find that so easy, and I guess that is one of the things I would dearly love to chat to him about now.

My high standards are about how I treat other people.  That’s where I slip up.  I’m certainly far from perfect and I too, let people down, but like I said in my last post (I Want To Change The World) , I tend to treat people the way I would want to be treated.  Is that so wrong?  Surely not.

My only conclusion is that I need the APA to revise their DSM-V again and this time include a new disorder, Disappointed By Humanity.  It’s not quite the same as depression, but certainly framed by sadness and a difficult in finding joy in life.

I don’t feel the need to have masses of mental illness diagnoses (although I already have a few to my name) but they are helpful personally to understand exactly what is going on inside this head and heart of mine.  Save for a long chat with Dad (which I can’t see is going to happen), this is the only way I can see for moving forward.

“Joy is sometimes a blessing, but it is often a conquest. Our magic moment help us to change and sends us off in search of our dreams. Yes, we are going to suffer, we will have difficult times, and we will experience many disappointments — but all of this is transitory it leaves no permanent mark. And one day we will look back with pride and faith at the journey we have taken.” 

― Paulo Coelho, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept

What Matters To Me This Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve here in my part of the world.  I have a list of things I need to get done before the day is out, but for now I want to stop, and think about what matters, what really matters to me this Christmas.

Christmas is will be about family for me this Christmas.  I am expected to be part of the family Christmas by some, simply because I don’t have a family (I mean a partner and children) of my own.  But that is small stuff compared to what matters to me.  I play along to meet expectations but really my heart is some place else.

Yesterday I went to a family Christmas lunch.  The whole family wasn’t there, but those I wasn’t going to see on Christmas Day were.  I arrived on time armed with Christmas gifts for the children, only to find they had all started the meal without me.  When I asked why (calmly and politely), there was no explanation forthcoming, and really all it did was tell me yet again, that to those people, I don’t matter.

“Family isn’t always about blood.  It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs; the ones who accept you for who you are.  The ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what.”

I am fortunate to have some family members who are blood-related and fit this definition.  They weren’t there yesterday, sadly.  The people who were there simply told me by their actions that I didn’t matter… and yes, that hurt like hell.

I’m not going to get bogged down in how that hurt, but rather focus my energy on those people who do matter to me, and I know I matter to them.  What is difficult is that this Christmas I am cut off from the people I would prefer to spend Christmas with.  People who would want to include me and want to show their love for me.

I also want to be with my friends who are struggling this Christmas.  Christmas can be a time of hurt and depression, and I hate that.  I really hope that somehow those friends can find some peace tomorrow, and know that they are loved (even from afar)

Those I want to be with are thousands of miles away, and so today I will place them in my heart, where they belong.  And I will take them with me as I celebrate Christmas tomorrow.  That way they are with me, in my heart and the physical distance doesn’t seem so harsh.

And to finish, a quote from my favourite wordsmiths.  Not because it necessarily fits with what I have said, but simply because I like it.

Calvin (Calvin and Hobbes)

“CALVIN:   This whole Santa Claus thing just doesn’t make sense. Why all the secrecy? Why all the mystery?
If the guy exists why doesn’t he ever show himself and prove it?
And if he doesn’t exist what’s the meaning of all this?
HOBBES:   dunno. Isn’t this a religious holiday?
CALVIN:     Yeah, but actually, I’ve got the same questions about God.” 

 – Bill Watterson

Touch

Image credit: pensierro/463810343/flickr.com

For the longest time I have purposely avoided human touch.  It’s pretty easy to do when you cut yourself off from current friends and do your best to avoid making new friends.  I just didn’t want to go there.  I have a bad habit of expecting that I will be trapped or suffocated by people if I allow them to get close.  So I don’t.  I build up walls and keep them away.

I don’t do hugs, or so I say.  One the rare occasion that I could admit to needing a hug, I gave myself three options.  Firstly, I have a good teddy bear who is very special to me (as you can read about in my book).  Ted is a good size for a hug but if you’ve ever hugged a teddy bear you will notice that they are unable to squeeze back.  And that squeeze back, to let you know that they are as into the hug as you are, is vital.

Secondly I had my cat Penny (who died six months ago).  Penny was amazing for knowing when I needed her love, but I’m sure she would have met some DSM-IV diagnosis as amongst other things (like extreme anxiety) she didn’t do hugs either.  She was more than happy to come and sit on my knee, or sit next to me but she needed to know she could escape when she was ready.  Actually she sounds like me.  Did I teach her this fear of getting close?  I don’t know but we had our own way of being close that was acceptable to her.  But yet again, it wasn’t quite enough.

The third option was to allow a hug from my Dad (he has also died now).  He was the only one I would allow to touch me.  It didn’t happen often (out of my choosing) but every so often his hug would tell me that he was on my side and he loved me.  Every so often he would reach out and hold my hand to tell me he was there.  Now that he has died I have somehow transferred the right to hug me occasionally to one of my brothers (the one who grows mushrooms).  Again, the occasional hug I get from him tells me he is on my side, he loves me and he cares.  My brother’s daughter L also gives me cuddles and somehow they don’t feel at all trapping and suffocating.  I know she gives them because she wants to, rather than out of obligation and that means the world.

Really though, I don’t get much human touch, and it didn’t bother me.  Actually it was a way to keep myself safe from some perceived threat.  It’s funny now that I find myself longing for touch.  Only a few days ago I read a post by my friend Frank at Shitegist about his own need for human touch.  I was quite moved by what I read but I told myself that it wasn’t something I needed.  I had conditioned myself away from this kind of contact.  Only days later though, I find it is exactly what I need and exactly what I long for.

This week (and it’s only Thursday) has been tough.  Actually it’s been very stressful and at times I have been completely devastated.  A little of it I have shared with readers in To Earn Trust After Past Mistakes, but most of it I have kept to myself.  For once I was lost for words (that doesn’t happen often), as well as not having the physical wellness to sit at my computer and type.  I have felt very alone, although I acknowledge (and greatly appreciate) that I have been supported wonderfully by a few people who knew.  At the end of the day though, I am alone and I simply wanted to be held.  I simply wanted someone who loved me to whisper in my ear that I’m not alone and they will be with me.  To know that I matter.

It is very weird for me to feel this way.  A few weeks ago I found myself wanting friends.  I don’t mean friends through the internet, and I should say I am very lucky to have some wonderful friends around the world.  But I found myself wishing for real, flesh and blood friends.  Cyber hugs are great, but they’re not anywhere near as great as the real thing.  Cyber conversations are also great, but they’re not the same as sitting down in the same room with another and talking.  While I have purposely distanced myself from friends because I was so afraid of being hurt again, I now find that actually I think it would be okay to take that risk again.

When I told my therapist this, a few weeks ago, I fully expected that he would fall off his chair in shock.  He has heard me say so many times that I don’t need real people in my life.  Somehow he didn’t fall, but he was surprised, as well as being happy, I had come to this stage.  Now that I find myself wanting to be held, I am positively certain that he will fall off that chair.  I’ll be sure to let you know.

I don’t for one minute think I am alone in my fear of human contact and I suspect many people with both mental illnesses and chronic physical ailments get to a point where it has been so long since someone reached out and touched them physically, that they don’t even realise they miss the human contact.  Human touch is a form of communicating our feelings to another, but it’s also a form of healing.  For so long I wasn’t going to let a single person near me.  My Dad was allowed occasionally but only because in over 40 years he had proven to me that he actually did care and he really did love me.  The last thing he wanted was to hurt me.  He knew though that there were times when I couldn’t allow him that near, and he totally accepted that.  Now though, I wish he was here.

This realisation of my need for human connection and human touch leaves a big aching in my heart, because I have built a wall around myself to purposely keep those things away.  But I realise that it is part of the healing journey for me.  I know it is still going to be weird to accept those things but I am determined to somehow break through my fear.  This week I have had a taste of how alone I am.  I knew I was alone but I hadn’t stopped to consider how physically removed I have let myself become from other humans.  It leaves a deep longing, that doesn’t feel very comfortable or very nice.  It is going to be a risk to let someone that close to me, but I know it is part of the process to win my life back.

“We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”

 – E.E. Cummings