Why You Shouldn’t Ever Call Yourself An Idiot

This post is part 3 of 5 in the From Bipolar to Byepolar series

“I am such an idiot,” and “I am such a moron.”

During my depression I used to say these five-word phrases a couple dozen times a day. Sometimes under my breath, sometimes not. Sometimes out of anger at myself, sometimes to make a friend laugh. No matter the reason why, it seemed best to simply beat anyone else to the punch, so I went ahead and said it.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid me. Come on, Rennels.”

At that time in my life, I placed everything I said under a microscope. Every one of my words was covered in prickly thorns as it floated through the air. It hurt to hear them because every one of them sounded dumb and misguided. It became apparent I had a defective brain and was destined for torturous misery, and any friends who stayed by my side were just doing charity work hanging out with me, I thought, because “of course I can’t do anything right! What else can anyone expect from the dumbest person alive.”

The thing was, I did get some things wrong. I will always probably battle absent mindedness and I might always get a glazed over look on my face when someone starts to talk about their car engine or a Roth IRA. But that doesn’t mean I’m the dumbest person in the world, and even more importantly, I’ve realized it doesn’t mean I’m worth any less than the next person.

The Voice

A few weeks ago my friend and I went to a favorite sandwich shop for breakfast. It’s a hole-in-the-wall shop and we frequent the place because it feels cozy like a living room. That is mostly thanks to a down home country gal who works there, who always wears a smile and hoots and hollers about the weekend as she makes everyone’s sandwiches.

And best of all, she sings.

She has a classic rock station on and when Three Dog Night or Creedence Clearwater Revival come on, she sings every word. We are out of her sight so maybe she doesn’t know we hear, but the whole neighborhood must know because she wails. I can’t imagine she ever had a singing lesson in her life because she is normally out of tune and her voice is less of a nightingale and more of, well, I guess Woody Woodpecker, but every time we hear her my friend and I stop to smile. The experience wouldn’t be the same without her.

So last week we were paying for our sandwiches and she was then making change when she started singing to herself. So I interrupted her.

“Hey, you should join us soon for an open mic night at my house. I mean, we love your voice!” I said.

She stopped and looked up. “Really?” she said.

“Absolutely. We love to hear you sing.”

She started laughing with joy. “Oh, gosh, you’re making me blush!” It looked like she was restraining tears, even.

And I wasn’t joking, not in the slightest. I mean, she wasn’t about to win any awards and Simon Cowell wasn’t going to fly her out to L.A., but that doesn’t mean I don’t love it when she sings. Life wouldn’t be the same without it. Similarly, I’m never going to take home any prize money from ‘Jeopardy.’ But that’s fine, too. It doesn’t mean people will love me any less.

The Silent Treatment

A few years ago a friend decided to go on a major weight loss mission to reduce from 400 pounds. And it was working. But after he reduced to 250 pounds, one day he suddenly couldn’t get out of bed. In fact, he couldn’t move at all. He was rushed to the hospital and doctors got to work to find out what went wrong, and he soon learned that his spine had deteriorated over the years but he was able to still function because the fat was holding things in place. Now that he removed the fat, which was also causing problems, he had a bigger problem.

Thankfully, it was going to be okay since modern medicine and physical therapy helped him get a new spine and walking normally again. But that took some time and patience.

Eight years ago I determined I needed to quit tearing myself down, so I stopped talking for a while. As in, no talking at all. Self deprecation had been so interwoven into my speech that I was relying on it to hold up my conversations, how the fat was holding up my friend’s spine. Every time I opened my mouth I ended up at the same point of negativity, so I just stopped.

It took a few months, and like my friend who probably had to start from scratch with walking, and then going one step at a time, I talked slowly and took it one word at a time.

But within six months I was talking without deprecating myself.

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  • Eric Nevins

    Hey Matthew! I saw this post come in my email the other day but didn’t have a chance to finish it. I’m glad I came back to it because I have found myself in a similar circumstance at times with the negative self talk. Lately, it has been rearing up again. Sometimes the biggest limitations are the ones you didn’t even know you agreed to. Thanks for the encouragement to keep thinking and saying positively.

    • Matthew Rennels

      Thanks Eric. So glad to help. I think we will always struggle with this, as it seems people are always on one side or the other, either always puffing themselves up, or putting themselves down. Personally, I think we’re on the better side of the two, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Thoughts are harder to control, but words are in our control. Be selective. And thanks again for checking in!

  • Alexis Lockhart

    I love this!!! I always tell my friends “If you wouldn’t say it about me, don’t you DARE say it to yourself!” or “Use nice words” to my children who are having a hard time! So many times, when I’m beating myself up, I hear the words I tell them, echoed back to myself! I’m so glad I’m not alone in that! God doesn’t make junk! and God only has children, NO step-children!! We are all made just the way we are supposed to be! :)

    • Matthew Rennels

      Great insight! And I am totally using that line, “if you wouldn’t say it about me, don’t say it about yourself.” That is gold. Thanks, Alexis!

  • Ivan Schneider

    Belittling yourself is good. It shrinks your ego and makes you humble.

    • Ivan Schneider

      You bet your asteroids it does