Bad habits are cages
‘I know how it feels to be trapped.’ She replied, and then stood in silence waiting for me to unlock the car.
Dee (a novel in progress) – Kristiana Reed
Bad habits are cages and I know how it feels to be trapped.
Bad habits have a habit of replacing each other and I know how it feels to be trapped.
Mental illness is accompanied by behaviours we label ‘bad habits’ to chastise ourselves and to fashion a cage out of self loathing.
Biting my nails. Picking my skin. Binge eating then not eating. Pulling and twisting my hair. Scratching until I leave marks or bleed. Chewing the skin around my nails. Brutalising the acne on my face until I scar. Squeezing the skin on my arms until it is red and sore.
All of the above are behaviours I exhibit then kick to the curb, and then welcome back with open arms the next time I am ill. Most days, I do not notice them. They do not appear all at once, at the same time, or on the same days. They create a cage that stretches for miles until you attempt to escape. It is then when I notice them and the power they hold over my self worth.
When I’m anxious, I bite my nails and chew my nail beds, pull and twist my hair. When I’m stressed, I pick my skin and scratch. When I feel ugly, I brutalise the acne on my face by squeezing, scratching, using tweezers, cotton buds and more until it stings and swells red. When I am unhappy, I squeeze the soft skin on my upper arms and dig my nails in, the bitten edges un-filed.
I hold no pride over my habits, my obsessive behaviours which all endeavour to cause pain or low self esteem. I hate the fact I own them, I encourage them and slip into their familiar arms even on the days I feel okay. This is how bad habits succeed in convincing you to maintain the cage they built for you.
Advice on bad habits ranges from break it, replace it to wean yourself off of it or go cold turkey. Break it and something else replaces it. Replace it and you find something new to label ‘bad’. Wean and find yourself making excuses for why you still need it. Go cold turkey and find yourself punishing every slip up you make.
Recently, I’ve been able to grow my nails again, allow my skin to clear up without picking at it and begin to eat more sensibly. All I have done, is accept these behaviours as consequential rather than tools to punish. I have given myself the choice to partake in the behaviour, stop or challenge.
To many, this will seem obvious but it has taken me nearly five years to recognise I can treat myself with enough respect to allow myself choice. For too long I believed accepting these obsessive habits meant they would define me. They don’t. They are just part of my armoury which hasn’t been updated in a while.
I’ve allowed love in, too. I love being able to paint my nails. I love eating really good food. I love having clearer skin. And now I have the choice to accept the love I can feel for myself isn’t narcissist but necessary to survive.
I know how it feels to be trapped. I know how it feels to let myself out of the cage of my own fabrication. I know how it feels to love myself again.