It was supposed to be simple.
I’d join Twitter, follow lots of people, write the occasional ‘highly insightful’ tweet, and *hey presto* I’d have a great way to market my blog. Because it was all about numbers. The number of followers. The number of hits. The higher they were, the more interest I’d generate when I made my ‘big announcement’*.
I remember being quite proud when I explained it all to a psychiatrist back in January (as yet the only time I’ve managed to glimpse one of his species):
‘I’ve been getting involved with the mental health community’.
In truth, I’d only had a couple of short Twitter exchanges. But it didn’t matter. I was involved. And #BlackDogRunner was on his way! The psychiatrist, however, rather threw me:
‘Can I give you a piece of advice? Don’t! Stay away from them. They’re poisonous.’
I want to get better. #BlackDogRunner was conceived not just as a symbol of my recovery, but as a conduit for it. Something positive that would help drive me towards a happier place. But what if it could also be a hindrance? I’d already been warned, by my partner and by my friends. Don’t let it take up too much time. Don’t let yourself get too attached. I have a history of getting distracted by pet-projects, and I’m at a very critical stage of my work, so that has to be my priority. But it was that ‘poisonous’ remark that hurt the most.
How can I practice self-compassion without being compassionate? And is that even the person I want to be? Healthy but self-centred? The man who walks past his fallen comrades and ignores their cries for help?
So I changed my tact. I stopped focussing on the numbers and started focussing on the people. The community who I was so starkly warned away from. And it’s been a revelation. Yes, I’ve met many people who are suffering. Some who make my own struggles seem like a drop in the ocean. But not one of them has EVER been poisonous. On the contrary, my new twitter friends are some of the most caring, interesting, and compassionate people I’ve ever met. People who react to the smallest acts of kindness, and – when you need it in return – give it back with interest. I can’t even express how touched I’ve been by their stories, how flattered I have been by their words, and how moved I have been by their strength in the face of enormous adversity.
So I’m content that the psychiatrist was wrong. Self-compassion doesn’t have to mean limiting our compassion to ourselves. There is no poison in the suffering of others beyond the poison we carry in hearts. So why, if compassion is so healing, has my own health been getting so much worse? Why am I now so fatigued that I haven’t been able to run or work in over two weeks?
I think it’s partly because I’ve gone too far the other way. Being self-centred doesn’t mean being selfish. It means recognising that you must look after yourself, your own health and your own energy levels, before you can be there for others. In other words, it isn’t an ‘either/or’, but it is a balance.
Which is why, for the next week, I’ve decided to be indulgently self-centred. A week away from Twitter. A week away from work. I’m going to miss my friends, both old and new. I’m going to miss #BlackDogRunner. But part of self-compassion means recognising that I matter. And besides, every good pet-project should be allowed the occasional trip to the vet.
*By the way, I’ll be making my big announcement in mid-July… So keep an eye out… ;)