I’ve had a pretty shitty last couple of years. There have been multiple people in a variety of different contexts who have treated me like crap, including people whose role (in theory) was to help me. While I don’t have PTSD, I do feel traumatized by the things that have happened to me, and that (in combination with my depression) has made me really withdraw into myself. I don’t trust people, and I don’t feel safe with people. I feel like anyone could harm me or turn on me at any time. I expect to be thrown under the bus because I have learned that this is how people treat me. So for the purpose of self-preservation, I opt to hide beneath a heavy suit of armour, hoping that people won’t be able to get through it to hurt me.
There is one exception to this psychological mess-fest of mine. He’s someone I work with, and right from the beginning I felt safe with him. To some people “safe” may sound like an odd choice of words, but for those of us living with mental illness psychological safety is huge. And I trusted him. I’m not sure why, but it just felt right. I told him about my illness very early on, and he was totally ok with it.
As time has passed I’ve shared with him some of the really messy bits, but it’s almost as though the more I show my imperfections the more perfect he thinks I am. It seems like he’s able to look past the illness and see the real me, which helps me feel a little more connected to the real me that’s lying buried beneath the depression. In a lot of small ways he takes care of me. While I am fiercely independent, it feels nice to be taken care of once in a while, and it had been quite a while since I last felt that way.
Lately we’ve started communicating quite a bit outside of work, which has been really nice. I’m not sure where exactly this will end up taking us, but I’m enjoying the ride. It’s interesting to reflect on how easily I felt safe with this person despite my internal scars and deep-seated mistrust of others. Is it possible to “just know” that someone is not going to hurt you? Probably not, but I guess it’s reassuring that I am still able to trust, albeit highly selectively. I’m not so completed disconnected from the world that trust is impossible, which on some level kind of surprises me.
I think we all put on armour as needed to protect our vulnerable inner selves from the world around us. The challenge is finding some sort of balance so that we’re not completely closed off, and establishing a dividing line between self-protection and avoidance. I have a lot more work to do on relaxing my own armour, but at least I’m making a start.
What sort of armour do you wear to keep yourself safe?