This is a story about me feeling unloved and unwanted, but it begins with what I call a “God Complex.”
Most people I know who have thalassemia (including myself) have a “God complex.” We like to frame ourselves as unshakable pillars of strength to our family members, we try to prove our physical stamina by partying harder than our healthier friends, and because our medical needs feel so out of control, we fiercely try to control all other aspects of our life.
A “God complex” ironically comes from a place of complete insecurity. There’s a darkness that lives inside me that says I am absolutely and utterly unlovable. After all, what guy would want a woman who needs blood transfusions to live, has scars all over her body, and might die before him?
And because that belief lives in me, my brain/ego tries to keep it alive by attaching itself to men who have little to no ability to make me feel loved. This is usually because they don’t love themselves and/or have chaotic life situations that render them emotionally void. I’m rarely ever anybody’s first thought or number one priority.
My preference for unhealthy men began when I first started dating at the age of 17. Fortunately, meeting guys has never been a problem for me. Unfortunately, if five guys want to date me, I always go for the one who has the least capacity to show up for me in mind, body, and heart.
Why? Because I grew up believing that I am completely unlovable and that deep rooted fear is hardwired into my brain’s circuitry.
And no matter how many people tell me that I am “beautiful,” “wonderful,” “intelligent,” “amazing” or whatever positive reinforcement they might use, deep down that painful negative self belief still exists.
So, I hurt myself over and over through my poor relationship choices. And I cry. I cry a lot when I think about how many times my heart has been catastrophically broken by choosing the wrong men.
But it’s getting better, because I’m on a healing journey. The nine year old girl who once believed she was such a horror that she should live under her parents’ staircase and get fed by a stick (yes, I really thought this) is evolving.
I still occasionally find myself with men who are unworthy of my time, but on the rare occasion when that happens, I acknowledge the negative feelings that get stirred up in me and find the self-love to kick them to the curb.
Most of the time.
Well, after several months of painful recognition that I’m slowly torturing myself.
Amazingly enough, things have gotten better because I’m finally learning to love and concentrate on myself more.
My relationship anxieties have greatly subsided over the years, but they still re-emerge when I get mixed signals from a guy.
If he says something like, “I think you’re incredible, but I don’t know when I’ll be ready,” or “Just keep living your life,” or my favorite one: “I’ll probably end up marrying an average girl, but think of you when I’m with her” I know I’m probably in for a bad time. Deep down, I know these aren’t mixed signals. They’re fog horns telling me that these guys don’t want to be in a relationship with me and I should leave before they drag me through hell.
Unfortunately, I can’t stop myself from hoping that time will change his heart. I can’t stop myself from living in the fantasy that “he’ll come through for me… for us” and I hate that I am this way.
If only a boxer would appear out of nowhere and punch me in the face whenever a guy drooled those words into my ear, because that’s exactly how I feel when he finally breaks my heart.
Sometimes it’s very difficult to ground myself in reality. My creative mind has helped me cope with a lifetime of physical pain and trauma. What I’ve learned is that my imagination is no place for a relationship. And, frankly, I’m just as tired of my “happily ever after” fantasies as I am with my “what if,” “why hasn’t he,” “what does he mean” fantasies.
Part of my fantasy comes from a need to control. I can’t control my health, so I try to control anything else that I possibly can.
My mind needs to know that someone loves me and will be there for me, which leads to a dependency on certainty, but that certainty is not based in reality. It’s just a fantasy built on a desire to control an outcome.
No one ever has certainty. How many people are married for years only to be blindsided by a person’s behavior down the line? How many people wake up healthy and die the next day. Nothing is certain. I just have to learn to relax and feel comfortable with not knowing what might happen.
I’m not someone who tries to mind read and I am very good about giving people space to be who they are, but I lose my cool as soon as I feel he is behaving out of sync with his words or his present words don’t align with what he’s said in the past. I can’t deal with uncertainty. I hate it. But I need to remember that control is a figment of my imagination.
So, I work on my mind. I get closer to God. I meditate on my thoughts and breathe. But my decades old anxiety hides very well and hasn’t been quick to resolve itself.
That’s why I take even greater action using these steps.
- I watch my fears as they bubble and brew, then force myself to snap out of my mind’s fantasy and return to the space that my body occupies.
- I tell my partner how I’m feeling and if he can’t handle it, he exits himself; if he can handle it, he walks alongside me and helps me understand the difference between my fears and reality.
- If I’m not in a relationship, my insecurities lay dormant. That’s just the truth. I can’t feel insecure about losing what I don’t have.
- I talk to my therapist and we work on resolving the childhood fears that still live inside of me.
- I do breathing exercises: three deep breaths in, one deep breath out and stay present in the room that my body occupies.
- I remind myself that I can only ever truly know and control myself.
- I remind myself to not compare the new guys that I meet with the terrible guys I’ve met in the past. This one’s hard to do, especially if they use the same words.
- I allow myself to feel my feelings and not hold them inside.
- I remind myself that every relationship presents me with a unique opportunity to evolve, heal, and become a stronger person.
- I remind myself that there’s always another dude waiting right behind the last.
- I create space for someone new by removing artifacts that remind me of past relationships.
- I forgive myself and remind myself of the abundance of love that I have from my family and friends.
- I explore all that I am curious about and work on creating an even better life of my own for myself.
If you know anyone who has ever had a broken heart or felt sad about his or her relationship status, please share this with him or her.
To believing we deserve a better kind of love (and finding it),
JOSEPHINE BILA, M.S.W. has been receiving transfusions to treat a rare genetic blood disorder for over 35 years. Her life experience, advocacy, and schooling helped her become an Expert Patient Representative to the United States Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Special Health Issues. She is an inspirational speaker who has presented to audiences around the world. Her written work has appeared on Yahoo!, CNBC, The Huffington Post, and many other outlets.