My life wasn’t magically easier after I was released from the psychiatric ward for a suicide attempt. The intervention was done. I wasn’t actively trying to harm myself, but I was far from safe. During the four years after my discharge, I went through the extremes of bipolar disorder, anger control problems and psychosis. I abused alcohol heavily and had a lot of “unintentional” near-death experiences.
Rock bottom came when I binge drank too much vodka and passed out for 22 hours. I woke up the next day, looked in the mirror and started to cry. In that moment I realized there was a huge part of me that I hadn’t been working on in all of my years of therapy. It was an obvious piece of my cycles of dysfunction, but I was too consumed by my symptoms to see it. Through deep, heaving sobs I finally understood that I hated myself.
Admitting that I hated myself was an important first step, but it’s such a long journey to change. I wish I could have walked outside in some kind of Disney/Lifetime/Oprah moment and had all of my friends lined up slow clapping. They could have said things like, “You got this man.” “We’re here for you.” “You did it.” Unfortunately, what I was left with that night was a completely dehydrated aching body, swollen eyes, emptiness and a small hope that I could get out of this.
In all of the conversations we’re having about suicide, depression and mental health, it’s important to remember that a huge side effect of mental illness is self-hatred. My self-hatred started before my suicide attempt. In the span of two years I visited my brother in a psychiatric ward, I lost two of my grandparents and one of my best friends was killed in a car accident. I had nowhere to take the anger of those events, so I internalized it. I blamed myself.
When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder I had more reasons to hate myself. My moods were erratic and uncontrollable. I hated having to be hospitalized. I despised watching everyone else I knew go through life without setbacks. I felt like I was the weakest person in the world. A freak who didn’t deserve anything.
The pattern of self-hatred is hard to break. A person could have the best therapists in the world, the right dosage and types of medication and all of the perfect mental health care available, but if he hates himself none of those things will matter. When I hated myself I didn’t care enough about myself to try and change anything. I didn’t believe anyone who told me I had a reason to live. My self-hatred was an impenetrable wall. It was infuriating and debilitating for my family and friends to watch. After I learned to like myself, I still had the monumental task of finding a way to manage my diagnosis of bipolar disorder with anger control problems and psychotic features.
Six Tips to Change Self-Hatred:
1. Think About Why You Hate Yourself — I hated myself for a lot of reasons that were out of my control. Locating those reasons allowed me to work on the feelings from those causes and find effective ways to cope with those feelings.
2. Find One Thing You Like About Yourself — In the darkest times it’s vital to have one thing to turn to that you do like about yourself. Finding one thing can help you start to build more aspects you like about yourself.
3. Practice — Self-hatred won’t disappear overnight. I hated myself 24 hours a day for seven years. If I had one day where I didn’t hate myself for even an hour a day that was a big change.
5. Create a Healthy Environment — I was surrounded by people who didn’t see a problem with me passing out for 22 hours. I needed to find people who supported healthier decisions and reminded me why I should like myself. You can’t change this alone.
6. Learn From Setbacks — As I learned to like myself it was easy to fall back into old patterns, filled with negativity and despair. It was important for me to celebrate small victories and build myself up one step at a time.