When I was in primary school, we had to watch a really cheesy video about bullying each year. In the video, a big bad bully would come out nowhere and tower over our hero, who would then put their hands firmly on their hips and declare, “Please stop that, I don’t like it,” and the problem was solved.
From Baby Bex’s perspective, anti-bullying training wasn’t really useful for anything other than turning me and my class into a pack of bullies for a few days after each session. There was a girl in our class who would say the company lines so sanctimoniously that half the class took to pinching her while we were all ever-so-innocently sitting on the mat together, just so we could hear her say those sweet words, over and over again (ugh, kids—what assholes).
So I think it’s fair to say that I’ve arrived at the doors of adulthood equipped with a pretty good idea of how to be a bully, but next to no idea about what you’re supposed to do when you’re being bullied. Which is a bit of problem, because I share a sizable chunk of my head space with someone who would have done well as one of the towering baddies on those old anti-bullying videos. I like to call her Evil Bex.
Evil Bex is, to put it bluntly, a chronic dick. She takes delight in telling me all the myriad reasons why I suck, and giving me blow-by-blow accounts of all the dreadful things I’ve done today. When she’s not in a creative mood, she’ll just throw out random zingers like “you’re worthless” and “why would anyone want you.” My constant companion is also a big fan of the sucker-punch; when I’m flying on the high of a good day, she’s the first person on the scene. The evil voice in my head will tell me that I’m an awful person, that people only spend time with me because they feel sorry for me, that I should just go to bed and never get out, and so on and so on. My bad days are the ones where Evil Bex holds court; when I make the mistake of listening to her, agreeing with her vitriol, and spending the day under my trusty desk, getting my cry on.
I really wish I could say that I’m writing this atop Victory Mountain. That Evil Bex is nothing more than an Internet troll in my rearview mirror, and that I’m writing each sentence in-between victorious slashes of my vanquishing sword. But honestly? I’m a bit stumped when it comes to Evil Bex.
One of the things I used to do was try and have logical arguments with her, calmly refuting her propaganda. So when she would say things like, “You’re worthless,” I’d try and come up with evidence that I’m actually not worthless. But this always ended up sounding a bit weak-kneed and unconvincing to me, I barely believed what I was saying, so why would Evil Bex be swayed by it?
Then I tried something called “thought stopping,” which is exactly what it sounds like—you shout “STOP!” inside your head. I’m pretty sure this actually works for lots of people, but it didn’t do jack for me—Evil Bex did the same anti-bullying training that I did, so she just sniggered and carried on berating me.
And then I turned to the drug of choice for most people with mental illnesses—glorious, glorious alcohol. I suspect the reason so many people with a dash of cray get into drinking and drugging is because they’ve found the one thing that makes their Evil Bexes shut up for a while—when I was drunk, my Evil Bex was too inebriated to bother me. I was on top of the glorious drunken mountain, a wonderful place where I didn’t have to wince my way through the constant criticism. Ah, those were the (drunken) days.
But what wasn’t quite so glorious was how utterly shit I would feel the next day. I’m cursed with migraines, which can see me spend three days in bed clutching my throbbing head, wishing that something, anything would end it. And as it turns out, my magical self-medication of choice wasn’t causing dire hangovers—it was triggering my migraines. Enter Evil Bex, the sequel.
This time around, I was utterly desperate to be rid of my arch-nemesis. I was still managing to make my way to work and back each day, but it felt like a constant, cringing battle. Evil Bex hadn’t liked her forced hibernation one bit, and she’d really pumped up the volume. It was hard to hold a normal person conversation with anyone (let alone get any work done) because Evil Bex was so LOUD. Imagine trying to work with someone next to you shouting abusive crap in your ear all day and you will get a pretty good idea of what it was like.
She was on so loud that she was drowning out all my thoughts, and I would constantly lose track of what I was doing because Evil Bex radio station was on 24/7. Often I’d end up just sitting at my desk in paralysed misery, holding back tears. More often than not, Evil Bex’s constant put-downs led me down the Internet-binge rabbit-hole, hopping frantically from page to page, in the hopes that the constant stream of incoming information would drown her out and make her pipe down. Aaaaaand then Evil Bex would yell at me for not working. That bitch is never happy.
Eventually, after months of constant abuse I just had to admit defeat, lay down my weapons, and make a truce with her. Trying to run away from her wasn’t getting me anywhere (not that surprising, considering we share a head), and it was stopping me from venturing out from underneath my desk.
The truth is, I don’t think I’ve ever really vanquished Evil Bex. Having the odd intrusive thought is actually a natural side-effect of having a human brain—everyone gets the odd crazy thought now and then, but your average bear will just think “well, that shit’s cray” and carry on their way. The difference is that I get caught up in the cray thought and think, “Oh my god, that’s awful, why would my mind SAY such a thing?” and I create even more suffering for myself by getting so upset about it.
I’m not judging myself here—having a constant voice saying that you deserve to die is pretty freaking unbearable. But wanting Evil Bex to GET OUT OF MY HEAD was counter-productive. My fear of her just resulted in me wincing my way through my life, and got in the way of me doing anything that didn’t involve cowering under my desk. And by trying my damndest to avoid her, I was making her come back scarier, and stronger.
To illustrate: Right now, I want you to sit here and read the rest of this bleurgh and with all your might, you have to focus on not thinking about chocolate. Sit here for a second and really concentrate hard on it.
What happened? That’s right; you’re still on-board the Bex Express, but now you’re thinking obsessively about chocolate. Evil Bex is a bit like that. If I try not to think about her and do everything I can to avoid her, she just rocks up the next time with new and improved superpowers. So, I have to learn to live with her.
As much as I dislike getting pummeled by Evil Bex, in her own warped way, she’s trying to look out for me. While I’m not down with her method of getting out the metaphorical wooden spoon and whacking me over the head with it, she’s really just trying to stop me from doing something stupid. And with the magic of hindsight (and mucho mucho therapy), I know now that Evil Bex is an unfortunate relic of my past—she says these toxic things because that’s how me and Evil Bex were raised. Coming from a household where a run-down of all the things that were wrong with you was par for the course, it’s really not surprising that I’ve got the cray thought-stream to prove it. I try to remind myself that Evil Bex is really just a confused little kid who’s tagged along with me on the Adulthood Express, not my own personal Lord Voldemort.
Remembering that Evil Bex is just a cray also helps. I remind myself that she’s just cranking out random cray thoughts, and that I don’t need to act on them—a very powerful antidote to her venom. I mean, Evil Bex is legit cray—if she was in running the show, I’d be rocking back and forth under my desk all day. So I try and take Evil Bex’s advice with the grain of salt that it deserves.
Here’s what I’ve found to be the best strategy for powering through my days when Evil Bex is in tow: I take deep breaths when she revs up, and instead of trying to avoid her, I turn towards her and tune into what she’s saying. I won’t lie—she still can still pack a punch, and quite often she still makes me wince. But I take her cranking up as a signal that I’m heading to Anxietyville, and realise that it’s time to whip out some tricks from my mental health bag of tricks.
Then, I’ll remind myself that this is the cray talking, not me. Instead of despairing that my cray is plotting my imminent demise, I remind myself that this is just the unfortunate product of some shonky wiring in my brain. And then I try and focus on something else. That can either be meditation, grabbing a cup of tea, or going for a walk—or sometimes just plowing onward with the task at hand. Often I’ll still be feeling like shit as I’m getting on with things, but usually that shit feeling starts to fade as I get more absorbed in what I’m doing. Sometimes it doesn’t, but I just remind myself that Evil Bex isn’t running the show these days, I am, so I try and make myself keep going. And if Evil Bex keeps harping on, then I just note that she’s still there, and I focus my attention back on what I’m doing.
Evil Bex still rides along with me most of the time—but now that I’m starting to approach her with less fear, she’s turned the volume down a bit. It kind of takes the bite out of her when I can respond by asking myself, “What is this thought getting in the way of me doing?” and then going ahead with what I had planned. That’s a much better strategy in the long run than getting myself stuck in never ending thought-battles, or cowering in fear at her insults. She’s quieter when I’ve exercised, had sleep and done some meditation, so I usually keep a daily stash of that in my arsenal.
Evil Bex also tends to fade into the distance when I’m really immersed in what I’m doing—when I’m writing, it’s like she’s not even here. Other crays I know find refuge in things like taking photos of nature, or painting, or running or whatever-else-people-do-I’m-out-of-ideas-you-guys. I think you just have to find something that you can really get caught up in, and your arch nemesis’s evil powers will eventually start fading.
Who knows, maybe one day the powers that be will invent some potion that will vanquish Evil Bex for good, or I might just wake up and my Crankenstein companion will be gone some day. But for now, it’s enough to know that most days I can buckle in to the Bex Express and go on living my life with Evil Bex riding shotgun.
Over and out—Evil Bex and I are off to fight another day… slash, to go find some delicious, delicious chocolate.