My life has always revolved around keeping people around me. I’m terrified of abandonment, always petrified by it, and so every action has been about avoiding that seemingly inevitable thing. I was waiting for people to realise that I was boring, that I was more effort than I’m worth, that I wasn’t worth sticking around for.
When I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder over five years ago, I was forced to confront a very uncomfortable truth: I had no idea who I was. Not in the cute young adolescent way, which comes with a movie montage and indie song playing in the background, but in the way that I literally was looking at a stranger in the mirror. Everything about me had been designed to keep people just close enough, but not too close so that they’d discover my secrets. Who was I without it all? Who would I be if I wasn’t constantly terrified of being abandoned?
I had always considered myself to be a loyal and caring friend. It was something I applauded myself on. I may not be the smartest or funniest friend, but I would always be there for the people in my life. That isn’t to say that everyone liked me, most certainly not, but that I gave as much as possible to the people in my life. I gave too much.
Yet my diagnosis made me realise that I wasn’t always there because of compassion or loyalty, but because I was terrified of losing people. I’d go above and beyond for people in a desperate claim to keep them. I surrounded myself with people who didn’t always treat me well, or who I maybe didn’t even like that much, just so I could avoid being alone.
I was the worst kind of people pleaser, as I did it for selfish reasons.
A lot of my time in therapy focused on putting myself first. I had to learn all about boundaries, and then actually set them, and actually stick to them. I had to stop giving more than I take, and stop holding this invisible tally count of what people did for me.
What things did I do to be easier for other people? In what ways was I dosing myself to avoid being ‘too much’? What did I want if no one wanted or expected anything of me?
I still don’t have all the answers, but I’m continually asking myself these questions. I was trying to shake the people pleaser out of me, and it was a painful experience. I lost a lot of friends in the process, some of whom I miss, and some of whom I don’t. I had some difficult conversations, confrontations, intervention, and every other word for a tense discussion you can think of.
I came to resent my people pleasing, just like I had internally resented the people who accepted it from me. But it’s only recently, that I can also see the good in this people pleasing.
My people pleasing makes me push myself too hard and refuse to cancel plans. It makes me resent people for not giving as much as I do. It makes me pretend to like things I don’t, and pretend not to be phased by the things that hurt me.
The catchphrases of my people pleasing are, “No worries!” and “I don’t mind!”
It’s easy to hate how much of a people pleaser I am, and to resent the people that accept this without realising why I’m like this.
Yet my people pleasing is also my lifeline. It makes me get out of my comfort zone. When my depression is pulling me under, that refusal to cancel plans will actually get me out of the house, and ensure I have some social contact in a day. I could easily go days without speaking to another human, but I feel the need to pick up the phone when someone calls, or reply to a message within a few hours.
That need to please my housemate with a clean home will ensure that I don’t live in my filth and that I don’t stay stagnant on the darkest days. It encourages me to make effort, and to cook good meals for us to enjoy, and to try my best.
My people pleasing has kept me going through some of the darkest months I’ve experienced. I have always hated having high-functioning depression, as I felt like it diminished what I go through. I’ll be smiling and working, and as a result, no one will know just how awful it is inside of my head. But this need to function, to please other people and keep up with them, has also kept me alive through difficult times. It has ensured I actually leave my home, or even my bed, and that I don’t isolate myself, even though I want nothing more.
Being a people pleaser meant that I suffered in silence for too long, and continue to feel like a burden to everyone I love. But being a people pleaser has also given me the motivation to keep going even when I don’t care what happens to myself. It makes me do all those frustrating health habits that I know will make me feel better but I just don’t want to do. It’s the worst and best thing for my mental illness, and I’ll continue to love and hate it, but maybe just hate it a little more.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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