I’m always wary of my tendency to think I’m special. I know it’s a human tendency, but it’s important to me to have a working bullshit meter and understand my capacity for self-deluding.

In the absence of accomplishments with a capital A, part of me tends to cling to the impression that I’m special because of what I struggle with. Rather than dwell on the ways I am broken or defective, it tries to tell me that these come with gifts that allow me to do, or see, or be something unusual in a good way.

Two days ago, I was driving to some meetings and savoring the “I’m back” feeling–that little rush I get when I realize that a sharp depressive dip is passing. I was conscious of feeling present in my body again, and everything around me seemed unusually sharp and colorful. It was one of those days when the clouds are so numerous and imposing that the earth seems like an afterthought, and I felt like soaring when I looked at them.

Hello, sky; hello, trees; hello, purple flowers in that yard. It’s good to be able to see you again. Hello again, my God, thank you for these gorgeous clouds and for being able to see them. I was connected with gratitude; reunited with hope. As I’d done many times before, I was emerging from a dark cave and being dazzled by the sun and wind. It didn’t last all that long, but I treasured it as I always do those moments.

Are those moments hypomania, or just the result of contrast? I don’t know. What I do know is that I contain within myself generous amounts of pride, vanity and arrogance that will latch onto anything in an attempt to make me think I’m better than I am. So I tell myself that living with a mental illness makes me special because of what I’ve had to learn from the process, and I tell myself that being an addict in recovery makes me special because of what I have had to learn from that.

I tell myself that perhaps “regular people” don’t see the beauty of the world the way I do sometimes; that they don’t experience the exquisite reunions and spiritual closeness that I get to taste. I tell myself this so that I can be grateful–but also to feed my ego enough to hold my head up among my fellow humans.

Why is this so bad, one might say? Surely it’s understandable that I’d cling to what I can when the alternative is to wallow in uninterrupted self-loathing. It’s what we humans do. We search for meaning and we search for ways to frame our lives as bearable, and when this doesn’t work we either rebel or sink into despair. Well, rebelling didn’t work out for me, and despair isn’t attractive as a permanent residence. So of course I try to convince myself that there are blessings and good qualities attached to the things I am.

Of course I do as T.S. Eliot writes: “Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something upon which to rejoice.”

But why does it have to be about being special? That’s the part that fills me with caution. That’s the part alerting me to the bullshit within: the shit that says I have to be special in order to be allowed to be here. That I have to be way above par in some ways to make up for being under par in others. The thing in me that’s still convinced it’s not okay to be a human among humans and nothing more.

It’s said that addicts tend to be egomaniacs with inferiority complexes. It’s a pretty common configuration, in my opinion, and not just among addicts. In recovery, I’m trying to learn a more balanced view of myself and others and get away from the ego and insecurity–and the more I work on it, the more I learn how deep the warping goes. I want to stop searching for specialness and concentrate on searching for truth. I want to relate to others without being afraid or ashamed or judgmental–and I am still so far from that.

2 responses to “Specializing

  1. You do not need to be special to be deserving, but the fact remains that you ARE special. Not because you live with bipolar disorder or are in recovery, though your experience has shaped you, but because we ALL are special and deserving, deserving of life, deserving of love. You are unique and irreplaceable as a loved and loving mother (and no doubt a loved and loving wife, but cannot assume your marriage is steadfast). But, in your case, I know you to be special, for you are a GIFTED WRITER, a GIFTED POET, a MENTAL HEALTH ADVOCATE, a VOICE that needs to be HEARD, an AUTHOR and POET that needs to be PUBLISHED and READ. That is the Lori Lynne Armstrong I value as special.

  2. You’re right where you’re supposed to be.

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