Note: This article is about mental health. I am not a doctor. Anything you will read here is from my personal experience as an ex-crazy and should not be taken as a recommendation. I urge you to seek a medical doctor if you are dealing with similar symptoms.
Someone thought a Twitter observation I made earlier today was good. Since I agree, I’ll re-post it here:
It’s powerful when you turn that around & decide to be your own best friend and ‘root for the home team’. https://t.co/fruTwthYg9
— Stephen T Shores (@stephentshores) July 13, 2016
For the longest time I wondered why I heard voices in my head, telling me to do weird things–nothing harmful, but strange. I did have the desire to kill myself for a long time, a desire that mostly disappeared back in 2007 at a church revival. But I would hear things in my head, grandiose ideas like forming a company or a church or whatever, and even though I was nearly too loopy to remain employable, period, I thought it was the voice of God, or (the discouraging voices) the voice of Satan, and so I was an utterly miserable person.
One day, while I was pondering these internal voices that seemed to understand me too well–I had been taught by an abusive and clueless church that Satan couldn’t hear our thoughts, only what we spoke–I got a mental picture: a person talking in an echo chamber that also functioned as a pressure cooker. The more the stress, the more the pressure built up, the more the echo chamber functioned and the person was unaware of it. It was a trap that I couldn’t get out of.
That image stayed with me for a long time while I tried to sort out these voices. I thought they were demons for the longest time, until I had a mental breakdown, was hospitalized, and started getting medical treatment.
The reason I talk about mental health so much is that so many Christians are unaware of mental health, to the sufferer’s detriment–and this is vitally important to recovering ‘Charismaniacs’:
As soon as I got on medication, all my ‘demons’ went away.
This article (archive), based on a new book about mental health, helped me put the pieces together. What I was hearing back in my ‘echo chamber/pressure cooker’ days was my own voice, my internal voice, but I didn’t know it was my internal voice. This explains why these voices I was hearing seemed to understand me–because they were me. And once the ‘pressure cooker’ was shut off–when I got treatment for anxiety and depression–I understood that they were me.
One of the issues I have dealt with since getting medical treatment in 2012 was the pain of regret. For the longest time, as long as I can recall, I would get stabbing regret. When I say ‘stabbing’, I mean it–it was almost a physical sensation, like someone sticking a knife in my brain. Anything I could remember that had been an embarrassing experience–going back to my first unpleasant memories (tipping over my teacher’s coffeemaker in my first grade classroom)–anything was fair game to my sadistic mind–me fighting against myself. These occurrences were sudden and violent: all of a sudden, I was ten years old again, saying something dumb in school, and the fresh embarrassment came back to me as if I was going back in time. It immediately impacted my emotions the same way, or probably even worse, and it was very painful.
Those Voices Were Not The Devil
For many years, I thought this ‘voice’, these stabbing sensations of regret in my head, was ‘the devil’, back before my nervous breakdown. Over the past few months, I’ve read a couple of books that helped me realize what that was. Gorilla Mindset, by Mike Cernovich, talks about being on your own home team. I chewed on this for a while and realized–and this has been just in the past couple of weeks, so this is fresh–that what these regrets was, was self-punishment.
I decided, once and for all, these two things:
- That I am my own best friend, and
- I always root for the home team.
Conclusion: Any negative internal voice, including these stabbing regrets, is completely wrong, because inside my mind, I only root for the home team. Any negative self-talk is ‘out of bounds’.
I tried a mental experiment: the next time I experienced those stabbing regrets, I said out loud, “Stop!”
The pain was immense, my emotions screaming at me, “WHY DID YOU DO THIS? YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE DONE THIS!!!”, so I had to talk myself down off the ledge, so to speak.
I spoke out loud to these emotions, telling myself to calm down. I knew that this voice was me, because it had a familiar ring to it, and I don’t believe in demons any more, not in the traditional sense.
Once I told myself to stop, I was able to force the emotions to back off.
I visualized what was happening inside in third person, as if I was talking to two other people: one, violent and threatening with a knife, fighting against the other: the innocent and hurting one.
I told the violent one to put the knife down and apologize. I told him and the innocent one that they are on the same team, that they are actually best friends, and that we always root for the home team. I told them to hug and make up.
Once I visualized the two individuals hugging, I felt a warm sensation, and I knew that I had the key: I knew how to talk myself out of these stabbing regrets.
In this regard, I knew how to love myself at last–and that is vital. Mark 12:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.
Two things I learned a long time ago:
- In order to love others, I have to know how much God loves me, and
- In order to love others, I have to love myself.
I used to be ashamed that I had to take medication and get counseling. Since then however, I’ve learned that shame is nothing more than self-talk: it’s telling myself, ‘You are this way, or you feel this way, but this is unacceptable.’ The question is: just who is unacceptable, here? Who is disapproving of me? If there’s nobody else around, it’s just me, and since I’ve decided that I’m my own best friend, there is nobody to disapprove of here.
Shit happens, shit gets dealt with. No shame. Do what ya gotta do.
So I talk myself out of my shame, I talk myself out of my guilt, and, with God’s help, day by day, I go on.
Putting It To Practice
Once I decided that I will always root for the home team, I have been sorting through my internal talk with much more success, identifying when negative self-talk is going on. If something negative is going on inside my head, I go down my mental checklist:
- Did I take my medicine?
- Did I eat?
- Did I get enough sleep?
- Am I looking at this from the wrong perspective?
- Am I just being unfair to myself?
There are probably some other factors, but usually it’s one or more of those things.
The first three have to do with health, and I am setting up a system for improving that (systems, not goals, are a vital part of life–see Scott Adams). I won’t go into health here, because I am overweight and fairly unhealthy, so I’m not qualified to give you advice!
The last two have to do with mindset. First, perspective: am I thinking correctly about this? If it’s a perspective swap I need, practically speaking, I usually start praying in tongues, asking God to help me see this differently. Sometimes I look for the solution but can’t immediately find one, but I find, after praying, that I am able to mentally ‘shelve’ the issue for later analysis.
Next: fairness. Being a firstborn child of a type-A mother and an emotionally distant father, I tend to be overly perfectionist towards myself. Nothing was ever perfect for Mom because, when Mom was growing up, nothing was ever perfect to my grandmother, and since Mom and I have nearly identical personalities, it’s no surprise that I struggle with the same thing. As I grow older, I’ve become mellower and tend to give myself a break a little more often. ‘Do I need to persecute myself over this?’ ‘Does this need to be perfect?’ ‘Can I get off my own back?’ (The answers, for those playing at home, are no, no, and yes.)
In Conclusion (Rooting For The Home Team)
If you are hearing voices inside, don’t delay: get help now. Call a psychiatrist, call a psychologist, call a Christian counselor, go to the hospital. You might be suffering from a nervous breakdown, just as I was, and the time I spent in the hospital getting treatment literally saved my life. The counseling and medication saved my life.
You need to decide for yourself that you’re going to save your own life. You’re worth it.
Start rooting for the home team today. Decide that you’re your own best friend. And if you can’t do that, find someone to talk to. I found a Christian counselor helpful for a year or so, just to get my head screwed back on right. I still see a psychiatrist to keep tabs on my medication, and still visit a therapist every now and then. I used to be ashamed of that, but now I’m on my own team! So it’s time to put down the beating stick and pick up the pom-poms. It’s game on–and I’m rooting for the winning team.