Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Recipe for Disaster

I have a problem. I always want to make myself look good. That may sound a trifle ridiculous, because everyone wants to look good, but I tend to avoid asking for help because I think it will make me look bad.

The last year is a perfect example. I had created a perfect recipe for disaster, but I refused to acknowledge the fact and ask for someone to help me by beating me over the head and knock some sense into me.

To make a perfect disaster, follow this tried and true recipe:

1) Live in a place where there is more rain/clouds/moss than you like
2) Get a desk job in such a place, so that when the conditions are the kind that you prefer, all you can do is look outside at them, then go back to work
3) Get a cough. Not a “oh, I’ll be over it soon” kind of cough, a “I would need two weeks off in a sunny place with no stress to get over it” kind of cough
4) Don’t take the time off that you need to get better, convincing yourself that the world wouldn’t carry on just fine without you to convince advertisers to spend more money
5) Start dating a man that gives you the cough, then wants so much of your time that you don’t have time to recover from the cough
6) Stay with this man long after you know it needs to end…and go back to him after it’s already ended.
7) Work with this guy just to make it harder
8) Try to convince yourself over and over again that this is what real life is like, and that you had better just get used to it.
9) Start eating a lot of Thai food and carbs, comfort foods, because you feel shitty about the fact that you can’t exercise because you’re too sick to do so. Every time you do feel good enough to exercise, you overdo it and end up right where you started.
10) Mix all ingredients and let them build. Voila! Forty pounds, a lot of tears and a year later, you’re nothing like the person you used to love to be.

When I think back over the last year, all I can say is, “What was I thinking?” Well, I wasn’t thinking. I was rationalizing. I rationalized away my own happiness. I rationalized away my confidence and my health; I rationalized away me.

I know I’m not the first person to do this. I know this isn’t the last time I will do it, either. But I am afraid, so very afraid, that I will allow my rationalizations to overtake my happiness again. I am trying not to lose confidence in my ability to think first of my own happiness. I am teeter tottering back and forth between “I should just do this alone, then I won’t compromise myself” and “I need to be stronger next time, so I don’t allow myself to be overtaken by someone else’s needs.” Both of these solutions take the wind out of my sails. I have to believe that there are men out there that I don’t have to protect myself from; who will have my best interests at heart, who will insist that I stay home from work and get better, who will do what they can to make me feel better, who will call my boss and tell them that I’m not coming in. I want to believe that there are men out there who will be able to put me first, not because I deserve it more than them, but because I will do the same for them and we will balance each other out.

I see the problem here. I need to be able to do this for myself. I need to be able to say, “No, I’m not going in. No, I need time to myself today.” But without even realizing it, that thought is pushed to the back of my mind before it’s even had a chance to be acknowledged. It’s because I don’t want to let anyone else down. It’s hard to realize that you’re only letting yourself down if you can’t recognize that you’ve given too much. Instead of thinking, “it’s not that bad. I can do this,” I should be thinking, “WHY am I doing this? What will really happen if I don’t go to work today?”

Yet the problem goes much deeper than that. I know very few successful people (women, mostly, but that’s just because I am closer to more women than men) who know when to stop and give themselves a break. They push themselves a little further, knowing they can do it, when they should recognize that they need to stop. The world will not stop turning. The sun will still rise and set. Those incredibly important tasks will still be there when they’ve given themselves a chance to breathe.

It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more we do, the less there is for others around us to do. We monopolize the chores, jobs and lives, and those around us become so used to it that they stop trying to help and let us run ourselves into the ground. And that’s exactly what I did: ran myself straight into the ground.

It’s only after these situations have ended that it’s clear to see what really happened. I look back and only now can I see how low I was; how unlike me I had become. Somehow, through all of it, I clung to the idea that I could give myself what I wanted if I just hung on a little longer. It ended up being true: I now have the money to give myself the time to write a book. But did I need to do it the way that that I did? Did I need to forsake my health, my confidence, my life, to get here? NO. I have never believed there was any reason to be unhappy. I have never believed it, yet I have let myself be unhappy over and over again anyway. This is not someone else’s job to fix. It’s mine. It is my responsibility to pay enough attention to what is happening to me to know when I need to slow down, or stop the path I’m traveling and get on another one. I am in charge, and I will succeed if I stop getting in my own way. That’s the answer….now I just need to stop with the questioning.

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