Primum non nocere

First, do no harm. An excellent principle–but it’s frustrating when that principle is dominating my life.

It’s day four of my recuperation from my short but meaningful flashback to the word of severe compulsive eating. Day four of careful, premeditated self-care, thoughtfully chosen and controlled eating and deliberate avoidance of all non-essential stresses.

My version of success, such as it is, is often defined negatively. Instead of accomplishments, I have to congratulate myself on things I didn’t do. Ways I didn’t make an episode worse. Drugs I didn’t take. Food I didn’t overeat. Sometimes I am humble enough to be okay with that, and at other times I want to scream with frustration. My pride hates being someone who spends this much effort just to get out of the negative and reach zero.

Too bad for my pride, because I know there will always be times like this. There will be other times, and I will enjoy them, but they are a privilege and not a right. And I am not alone. God, am I ever not alone!

Right now, someone’s mark of success is not cutting their skin with a razor blade when they are in distress, and their badge of honor is a set of arms with only the number of scars they had this morning. Is it you?

Right now, someone’s success is that they are signing paperwork to go inpatient for psychiatric help instead of harming themselves, and their badge of honor is a hospital wristband. Is it you?

Right now, someone’s success is rocking back and forth on a chair at a meeting, or calling person after person on the phone, or doing a hundred other things to get through another day without their drug of choice. Their badge of honor is a body and mind just a little less toxic; just a little closer to healing. Is it you?

Right now, someone’s success is putting their screaming baby safely down in their crib and walking away long enough to have a good cry or call a friend for help. Their badge of honor lives to smile again. Is it you? Do you know you are brave?

I could go on and on as I reach out mentally towards my brothers and sisters of the soul–the depressed ones who took their aching bodies outside for a little while; those who took their meds even though a part of them didn’t want to; those who took a shower for the first time in days. We celebrate countless small victories in our lives, and we fight against the voices that try to tell us these don’t matter.

When I receive the privilege of being productive at something, I don’t want to take it for granted. But I must not put too much meaning, or too much of my own identity, into productivity in and of itself. If I do, I’ll lose my sense of self every time I go through a low phase of any kind.

I have no hesitation in acknowledging the victories of others. I have no doubt of the worth of their struggle. Like many of us, the one whose worth I doubt is myself. I begin to see life as a meritocracy whose standards are set out of my reach, and it saps my will to continue. But if I am a failure, these other people are too–and I don’t believe that. So I have to practice treating myself with the same faith and regard.

Today, primum non nocere. Tomorrow, unknown. And it’s all right.

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