Not every thought requires or deserves a response. You can challenge some of your thoughts and ideas, and some you might want to discuss with a friend. Sometimes you can find yourself in a dark place and feel there is no way out. This is when you need to reach out and ask for help. Hesitating, being shy or embarrassed will only hinder the chances of discovering a way to overcome the doom and gloom. It sometimes sounds cruel and insensitive, but it’s time you took responsibility for your doom and gloom.
You might be wondering why I’m always babbling on about self-help, I have suddenly started telling you to share your thoughts and ideas. And you would be quite right to do so – but allow me to explain.
We are all emotional creatures – many of our thoughts are driven by positive and negative emotions. This is why we help others around us, have compassion for abandoned pets and give money and time for charitable causes. But this is also why we can feel extreme hate, get enraged, act irresponsibly and make the worst bloody decisions of our lives! Confidence can quickly mutate into cockiness and arrogance, and self-doubt can rapidly transform into self-loathing and self-pity.
Imagine if you were the sole person responsible for a big red button that, if pressed, would mean that the entire world would self-destruct. God help us if you have a bad day – or get depressed and lose the will to live – you might decide to take us all with you. You probably wouldn’t, but we can’t guarantee that. That’s why it is good to have counsel that can help make sense of things and effectively prevent you from unnecessarily destroying the world.
As I am sure you have already worked out, the big red button is a metaphor for your reaction to your thoughts – you are solely in charge of them and responsible for how you deal with them. You are, whether you like it or not, able to press the self-destruct button at any time. Therefore, seeking support from family, friends, and even professionals can sometimes stop you from acting recklessly.
Sometimes a series of small annoying things can seem like a colossal storm taking place in your mind. Of course, it is possible to try to cut through the noise on your own, and you probably do it regularly. But sometimes, the storm gets out of control, and you have unmanageable tsunamis. This is where talking to someone from the outside could help. As mentioned earlier, it is easier to see things from outside of your thoughts than through them. Other people who care about you or professionals can help cut through the noise and help you manage your thoughts.
Much of the time, we find that uncontrollable and external factors cause our pain and problems – this could be due to illness or people who have hurt us. What is necessary to understand is that although you might not be the cause of your pain and misery, you are entirely responsible for how you deal with it. For example, you wake up with a splitting headache – you didn’t cause the headache, you certainly didn’t want it, but you have it, and now it is on you to do something about it. You could lie in bed and curse the world because everyone else around you didn’t wake up with an excruciating headache, or you could accept you have it and recognise that you are responsible for it.
A good few years back, I was fuelling my car in preparation for a meeting in London when I ran into my childhood friend, Zee. We had lost touch over the years, but when we saw each other, it was as if the ten years didn’t happen—a gush of nostalgia flooded through me as we briefly reminisced on the good old days. I was thrilled to see him, but I couldn’t help but notice that he appeared different. I almost felt like he wanted to say something but was holding back. I asked him if he was OK, and he smiled and said everything was fine, but there was something hidden behind his smile and his eyes that I couldn’t put my finger on. Afraid of annoying him, I chose not to keep prodding.
I gave him my number and asked him to call me the next day when I was home as I had to get to the city. And although he had looked me in the eyes and told me he was fine, I couldn’t shake off the strange feeling in the pit of my stomach. He no longer seemed like the Zee I knew growing up. It was hard to describe; he was charming, charismatic, and confident. Of course, he had his pitfalls, as we all do, but he was a strong guy. But he seemed tired and defeated. Something in his expression, body language told me that he was lying when he said he was fine.
He didn’t call the next day. I was annoyed at myself for not insisting on getting his number as I would have tried to call him. Finally, I convinced myself that I was being paranoid, we all have off days, and I had an irritating tendency of overthinking things. I was forever trying to tame that beast inside me.
After a few days, I received a phone call informing me that Zee had committed suicide.
I remember my heart galloping like a wild horse, ready to break out of my chest. I was suddenly back in the toy chest I was locked in as a child, unable to breathe, unable to escape. The world started to spin faster and faster, like the car I had an accident in on the motorway until I could no longer keep balance. Guilt and regret oozed through my veins as I crashed. I hit the bollards so hard that I convinced myself that there was no possible chance of survival.
But just like the way I crawled out of the wreck on the motorway, I crawled out of my thoughts. Except this didn’t take moments, it took months. I spent weeks in a ditch of misery and self-loathing. I couldn’t help replaying meeting Zee at the petrol station in mind. I reviewed it obsessively like a stereotypical detective in a crime fiction novel fixating over a case. It wasn’t helping. I hated myself for not acting. I despised myself for having a suspicion something was wrong and yet leaving him, my dear friend, at the petrol station because I had to get to a meeting. I called myself all sorts of vile things; selfish, cold-hearted, neglectful and I was certainly not a good friend. My thoughts were violently and relentlessly piercing through me like a sharp sword, and I didn’t want to stop them because I deserved it. I deserved to suffer because I had failed my friend.
These negative thoughts eventually evolved from failing my friend to being a failure, full stop. I couldn’t be trusted around other people because I would fail them. Friends are supposed to be kind and supportive, but I couldn’t be leaned on because I would move (or run off to a meeting) and let you fall. Soon I was convinced that I was responsible for Zee’s suicide. I let him die because I was a selfish, narcissistic monster who pretended to be a friend. Granted, I didn’t kill him, but I let him die – and that was the same as lying and not telling the truth. My mental hand hovered over the big red button, and I wrestled with myself to slam down on it.
It took many months to realise that my mind was a mess. My thoughts were negatively impacting my life. My brain was like that sadistic boy from my past, malevolently holding down the lid of the toy chest. It wanted me to suffer and was getting comfort from my misery and pain. But this time, I was definitely going to die. No kind little girl would come to my rescue – the lid was not coming off, and I would suffocate to death.
Thankfully, I didn’t die. The inability to breathe, although felt incredibly real, was not. My mind created an illusion, and I needed to stop it. I had to adopt the earlier method of extracting myself from my thoughts and making sense of them. My thoughts were produced by a heart-breaking and traumatic event entirely out of my control, but now that they were here, I was solely responsible for them, how I thought about them, how I allowed them to make me feel and how I overcame them.
With great pain comes great responsibility.
I needed to accept this had happened and that, in reality, there was nothing I could have done to change the outcome then, and there was nothing I could do about the tragic event now. “What ifs” are a tool of the devil!
My friend had been suffering from mental health for a while but never told me about it. I needed to accept that I had no control over what my friend told me or didn’t tell me. I also had no control over his mental health.
The day I saw him at the petrol station, although I had a suspicion something was wrong, I had no way of knowing something was seriously wrong. Yes, I could have kept poking at him to tell me if he was actually fine, but I chose not to, and I have to live with that.
Of course, I could have made more effort to track him down the next day when he didn’t call, but I wasn’t sure what was going on. It’s like when we look back, and we say we should have taken advantage of the “good old days” – we can’t because we don’t know that they’re happening when they are happening. We can only know the “good old days” after they are gone. Again, this was out of my control.
Sadly, Zee was sick, and he made a choice – a choice that broke my heart, one that I strongly disagreed with and made me deeply sad. His choice, however, was not in my control, nor was I responsible for his choice – I was solely responsible for how I dealt with his choice and how it made me feel.
Yes, I could just press the big red button and hope that it eliminates all the pain and guilt, or I could be more courageous and take responsibility.
That is my choice and my responsibility.