Another personal ramble. Sorry if this one is even less coherent than the last. Been very emotionally overwhelmed by a lot of things today and I think I just needed to get some of it out there. Maybe someone will read this and find they’re not alone and that’s literally all the good I can hope to do by opening up.
“I need to be more productive.”
“I could have done more work today if…”
“I’ve wasted so much time already.”
“I won’t take a break until X is done.”
These are but a few of thoughts that go through my head on, well, a daily basis. If I wake up five minutes after my alarm I am ‘behind schedule’ even though I work from home and the only schedule I have to keep is my own. Every minute at my desk that I catch myself doing something other than work wracks me with guilt. And the worse part? The more productive I am in a day, the worse all these things get.
I lost a lot of time to depression, a close friend’s illness, and grief over the past few years. That’s not to say I did nothing during that time: somehow I wrote half a book, survived two and a half years of psychology course with the OU (I had to quit before the end for lack of support from my tutors for my circumstances and I had grown to detest the course), joined the FETC (emotional therapy counselling) to train as a counsellor, and generally achieved a hell of self-understanding.
Still, all I can see of that period of my life is a bleak landscape of nothingness. As though I had nothing to show for all those years. As though I had to justify my very existence by my achievements.
I grew up as quite the high-achiever at school. I was forever in the top 3 of my class (sometimes of the school) and most of my teachers had nothing but praises for me. I can’t remember what my parents were like all the time. But I can remember a lot of being told I wasn’t working hard enough, that I didn’t realise how lucky I was that I could be so lazy about my schoolwork and still get such good grades. It was always made a point that I wasn’t working hard, and somehow, somewhere in my child’s mind who always heard his parents praise hard work before all, I started to think this was a terrible thing.
The thing was, I wasn’t lazy about my schoolwork. At the risk of sounding boastful, I found it all easy. I was an incredibly academically minded child (university certainly got that out of me >_>) and homework and schoolwork was overall a doddle I could get done quickly before collapsing in front of the TV or a video game, or grabbing the book I was reading (NB: I spent years schooled in France where the school day ends at five or six in the afternoon, so I didn’t have that long to do anything once home). I didn’t leave my homework until the last minute (unless it was Latin, I was really bad at remembering to do my Latin homework). I studied for every test.
But still it wasn’t enough.
The core memory I have of all this must date back to when I was about 8 or 9. I had come home beaming with the grade I had just gotten on a test at school (I don’t even remember what the test had been about but I have a clear memory of the piece of paper I held in my hand when I walked in through the door). It was a 17/20 (French scoring system works out of 20, it’s weird once you move to the UK). I was so proud that I showed it to my father who was home on that particular day. I was at that age where I was desperate to be accepted and make proud this man who spent so much time away from home. He always went on about his academic achievements so I was convinced this would make him proud. Do you know what he said to me?
“Where are the other three points?”
I don’t care if he was joking because he never said “well done” first, or after. Or ever. All he saw was what was lacking.
That incident pretty much sums up his attitude to everything I did. When I tried to learn to draw all he would ever do is point out everything that was bad about my drawing. When fifteen-year-old me made the mistake of leaving the notebook in which he had been writing his first novel in laying around, my father read it and proceeded to tear apart almost every word written. My judo medals were never good enough. When I would practice piano he only ever commented on the mistakes. And on the rare occasions I would question why he had to be so harsh on me, he would reply that this was the way the world was and I would have to get thicker skin if I wanted to get anywhere.
By seventeen I wasn’t writing anymore, any attempts to draw long forgotten, the piano lessons forgotten and the judo training a missed memory. I had been sick from a mysterious stomach illness for a year and I just didn’t see the point in doing anything but what I had to. What was the point, after all, if I was never going to be good enough?
What my dad did was insidious and invisible. It took me years to see the damage that one remark had done. To realise the reason I never seem to manage to finish everything is for fear of how that thing, whatever it is, will be judged once I am done. I put off doing things until I have made myself sick with stress over putting it off and then I sit paralysed by the realisation that I have failed before ever starting.
So when I enter periods where I’m actually managing to work, to throw my all into what I want to do, I don’t do it 100%. I do it 200%. Sometimes more. I time every minute, I feel the need to keep track of everything I’m doing just so I can prove to myself that the paralysis is gone and I’m no longer being a waste of space. But the result isn’t that I’m more productive, it’s that there are days where all I want to do is curl up in bed and hide under the duvet.
Last weekend was tough for me: grief caught up with all its tangle of emotions and it all exploded on Monday. So I didn’t do any work on Monday. Let’s put aside the fact I actually managed to work out and did the groceries shopping (and wrote a long rambly blog post, it seems to be the week!), because all I can see about Monday is that I didn’t study either for my course or the language I’m trying to learn, I didn’t work on my book.
And I hate that about myself. I hate this inability to see what I have done, and instead only see what I haven’t. Thanks dad.
So I spent the rest of the week racing against the clock to make up for Monday. Add to that three trips to various doctors (for minor things), and this week seems to have vanished into nothing. Of course it’s not what my calendar is telling me. I have done plenty this week. It’s there, written black on white. But all I can think, all I can ever think is “But you could have done more if…” There are a thousand things that come after that if, all more ridiculous than the other. I did a couple of those this week, I didn’t take time off when I meant to and just pushed and pushed and rushed myself until today when a headache hit me out of nowhere.
I think these headaches are migraines (symptoms match more than not when I look them up) are absolutely exhausting. I feel dizzy, I feel sick, and one side of my face and behind one of my eyes feels unbearably painful. I know the best way to combat these: have an hour nap. Just turn off from the world and go to sleep. But sometimes I just can’t because I feel so damned guilty about it. Because it feels like I’m wasting time.
So I’ve got a long way to go before I stop this frantic race against….well I don’t know exactly. I know all of this on a mental level but sometimes it’s not enough to stop the feelings from overwhelming me. I don’t know if talking about it is going to help, but I doubt I’m the only person out there who feels this way. Some people will have had it way worse with their parents, some won’t have, and like me might feel unjustified in how it has left them feeling as adults.
The advantage I have is that as a trainee counsellor I know that how bad or not something was, if the damage is done, it is done. There is no need to justify why something affected you, it is enough that it did, especially as our children selves are so much more sensitive than they ever let on. We’re not responsible for how our parents made us feel, all we can do is make the most of what we have now.
So to all the people out there who feel like me: it’s ok, you’re plenty as you are. You’ve done plenty today, even if all you’ve done is breathe and survived through whatever shit you’re having to deal with. Don’t let parents, or society, tell you that your worth can be measured by any achievements. It doesn’t work like that. Be you, and that’ll be more than enough. Always.