My Failure Feedback Loop

jny published on
4 min, 702 words

In treatment, if you ever feel as though you might harm yourself, you're supposed to tell a clinical technician so they can keep a close eye on you, and you'll end out sleeping in the nurse's station that night. I had to do this twice.

I don't want the rest of this post to underplay how I felt at the time, because it was very real. If it helps things make sense, the 2nd time was Christmas night. Holidays are hard, even when you're not in the real world.

Anyway, instead of being ecstatic that I had taken a step to reach out for help, my therapist there was extremely frustrated, as I had spent the night at the nurse's station now for the second time in a week. I didn't understand her frustration then, and it took me a while until I finally did.

She asked me if I even tried. If I'd done any of the skills that I'd learned. She asked if I was being overly dramatic (hint: I was not). But what came next is what surprised me. She told me that by checking myself in to the nurse's station, I'd fed my self-destructive tendencies. I had no idea what she meant.

In essence she was saying that by handing over the care of myself to another person, I was reaffirming in my mind all of those negative thoughts about myself. All those doubts as to what I can do. The motivation was certainly not just trying to get attention, but it was instead kind of a proclamation to the world, "Hey everyone, I can't do it. I can't even take care of myself so I'm going to let someone else do it for me".

"Setting myself up for failure" is the term my therapist used. Buying into my depression because failure is what I'm used to, and it's comfortable due to its familiarity. The neverending feedback loop of me believing that I will fail, then granting all of the factors that will work against me license to run rampant.

The only way to break a feedback loop is to either cut off the input or cut off the output. And for me, cutting off the input means recognizing those moments when I'm taking actions that seem justified but I'm really just doing them to maintain the status quo of failure. And that's a tricky line to walk; checking myself into the nurse's station was definitely preferable to self-harm, but if it's just to shirk responsibility for my actions, it's just trading one problem for another.

That's really the best way to put it: shirking responsibility for my actions. At first I didn't understand; I was angry, actually, which is rare for me. And while I do think that my therapist was wrong in some respects, I think that she pointed something out that is very real. It's really just another viewpoint to observe the problem. I can think I'm doing something innoculous from one point of view, but if I pivot to try to check and see "why don't I want to game night? Am I setting myself up for failure?" And for a lot of things (like the example I just gave) where that is the case. When I understand that such is the case, it gives me another avenue that I can wear down the resistance enough to actually go. And the act of going proves that part of me that only accepts failure is not all that there is.

It doesn't make easier. It just provides a better view. It's not just a matter of "Oh, not going to game night is bad. I didn't realize that, so now there's nothing in me that doesn't want to go". Whatever pressures might be present are still there, as is that part of me that is hungry for failure, but the latter is now out in the open. I suppose it's a little bit of self-care -or even self-compassion- because the more I understand about myself, the more compassion I can give myself. The more I understand what feeds into the feedback loop, the more I can try to disrupt it.