Balancing Self-Compassion and Self-Discipline

I’ve been a self-improvement nut pretty much since I hit puberty. There’s a journal entry from the summer before I started 7th grade (so I’d just turned twelve) in which I wrote detailed plans for mastery of several virtues. I was going to focus on one each day of the week. I’m not sure how long that whole thing lasted, but the mindset remains.

I’m also pretty hard on myself, like a lot of people. It seems like people have always told me to quit being so hard on myself. Mental health professionals tell me to practice self-compassion. One of the social workers at the partial hospitalization program repeatedly told us all to give ourselves grace.

It wasn’t until fairly recently (like the past 6 months or so) that I recognized and accepted that I can’t just push through my mental illness. In some ways I knew that. I’ve always known that just snapping out of it wasn’t an option and that it couldn’t be cured by sheer force of will. But I think I sort of thought that if I attacked it hard enough–got therapy, took meds, used coping skills at home–that I could annihilate it without having to alter my life in any significant way. I didn’t have a realistic idea of exactly how much practice and work it was going to take to recover from borderline personality disorder.

The past 4 months in particular have shown me that I have to make recovery my top priority even if that means sacrificing some other things. I had to take time off work. I’ve put the process of applying to/selecting a grad school on hold. I’ve adjusted my expectations of myself.

I think that this is a good, smart thing. But I don’t want to stop moving forward. I want to give myself space to rest and not expect too much of myself, but I don’t want to quit accomplishing things. Right now I’m working 30 hours a week, and I’m happy about it. I’m making enough money to pay for stuff and I get to keep my insurance. I also don’t feel overworked. However, most days when I get home I don’t feel like doing anything else that I feel like I “need” to do. I don’t want to exercise, make good eating choices, or clean up around the house.

I don’t know how to balance giving myself grace and making progress. Am I taking care of myself by deciding to read, play video games, spend time reading about/talking to people online about recovery instead of exercising or cleaning? Or am I just being lazy? Would I be protecting myself by staying home from a close friend’s wedding because it’s 5 hours away and travel and crowds make me very anxious? Or would I be a shitty friend to miss it?

I don’t want there to always be a reason I can’t do things. But I also want to take care of myself, focus on recovery, and not drive myself into the ground.

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2 thoughts on “Balancing Self-Compassion and Self-Discipline

  1. I relate to this post so much. I think finding any sort of balance is particularly difficult with BPD, but at the same time balance is probably the key to managing it. When it’s always a series of good and bad days, it’s easy to become overly-ambitious, and want to make up for ‘lost time’ when things are going well and you feel capable, only to not be able to keep it up, or even manage the most basic day-to-day things anymore when you burn out and/or the next bad day throws you off track. I’m trying to get out of that cycle, but like you I get frustrated when I feel I’m having to ‘live like a sick person’ and treat myself gently, but at the same time trying to push myself and sustain higher functioning and achievement always feels like an Icarus situation, usually with a similar ending. For what it’s worth, you sound like you have a good attitude towards recovery, and just as you can’t simply will yourself to get better, I think the same goes for making progress; in the end we probably achieve more by making small steps/changes and staying self-aware.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this post. It sounds like a lot of stuff I have been struggling with. I can never tell if I’m making the right choices to take care of myself or just being lazy and neglecting my responsibilities.

    Kind of worried that I’m tackling my mental health disorders also by just thinking I can handle them on my own, without a solid support system. I’m considering quitting IOP and just relying on my new therapist. I tell everyone that I just need to work some things out in therapy, as if all my problems will be resolved. I realize that I need to put in my own effort like certain people have been telling me.

    The last few times Itried to handle things on my own over the years I’ve ended up in really bad places, and more recently in the emergency room.

    I hope you and I are able to see the significance of putting recovery first before everything else.

    Liked by 1 person

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