Every few months I see the signs coming.
‘It’s ok, it’s ok, it doesn’t mean anything,’ I tell myself. Except it does.
It’s insidious. It starts small. You nearly always think you can beat it, this time.
Instead of going back to sleep for an hour after my husband goes to work in the mornings (he goes early, ok?), I might get up in the dark, potter around, eat while I’m not really hungry. It’s not a proper breakfast, just a slice of bread, standing up in the kitchen, or a mouthful of yoghurt out of the pot.
‘It’s fine,’ I think.
Then I start using my phone too much. It’s just Instagram, you know. But you know, and I know, the difference between ‘it’s just Instagram’ and ‘it’s just Instagram and I’m numbing my brain by scrolling though garbage, wasting my time’. Or worse, I’m looking far too much and too often at what other people are doing, getting lost in intangible world where it’s far too easy to extrapolate and invent stories that are flat out wrong.
‘It’s alright, go easy on yourself,’ I say.
But there’s a difference between ‘going easy’ and ‘letting everything go.’ A difference I’m still learning to navigate, because until three years ago I had one speed. 110%. I even had a boss at one stage who, about four times a year, would look at my glazed-over eyes, know I was overdoing it, and say ‘go home for the rest of the day. I’ll see you tomorrow.’
So the ‘going easy’ bit, yeah, I’m still working it out how to do it. How to change gears, up and down. How to trust myself enough to make a call about when to go hard and when to rest. Balance, for want of a less over-used term.
Then comes the irrationality, manifesting in unreasonable expectations, forgetting that my happiness is my own responsibility; wondering why people around my aren’t caring more, don’t they see? Finding things to be self-righteous about; seeing things sunny side flat tack down on the pavement. Glass half empty. Maybe nobody cares about me; maybe it’s a trick?
Then: I pick myself up and decide to change my attitude. Today I’ll ‘get shit done’ because that will make me feel better. And for a day it does. I tick literally every thing off my to-do list. I feel ok, in control again. I’ve patched things over. For now.
Then a trigger: and that precariously built house of cards comes down, with tears that leave my face stained for a day. It feels like a bullshit story I’m telling myself. It feels self-indulgent. I can’t find reason for it so then I judge it too. This too shall pass. I say, but I don’t always believe it. Just get over it, realise how lucky you are and get on with your life, you wally, my brain tells me.
Compared with years gone by these occasions are now so rare I can count the number of times in the last couple of years on one hand. I’ve had my fair share of issues over the years. Each time I got a grasp on one I was relieved; I thought I’d made it. Job done. But I felt guilty too. Where was the reason? No childhood trauma, parents not divorced, nothing as a teenager that I could ever put my finger on and say aha! That’s why! I was educated, privileged, white, middle class. So apart from feeling shit, I felt shit about feeling shit.
It manifested in my relationships too: men who got into trouble with the law or had no job. Who did the wrong thing by me while I stood back. They weren’t all bad people. I reckon the reason I was attracting them though, was the same reason that I’d end up in tears every few months. The same reason one kind of pathology would disappear but manage to manifest another way. In yoga teacher training we talk a lot about triggers. Beliefs about yourself that shape the way you view the world. My biggest dis-ease? That I’m not good enough; that I don’t deserve to be cared about.
It’s why, when I read a blog post about being a ‘leaky bucket’, that I related. If you’re constantly relying on other people to pour love in, and you just let it fall through the holes, you’ll get tired, and everyone else will get tired of you too. You have to plug those holes and stand on your own two feet. It’s stuff I’ve worked on and nearly mastered, but every now and then it might catch me off guard. Like when I realise just how much I am expecting of myself living in a new country (just quietly, to be best mates with everyone, find a job, be fluent in the language, understand the culture, flawlessly navigate the public transport system, be able to communicate with everyone I meet, not ever be confused or tired or have had a gutful of it, and be generally able to operate as a fully-fledged member of society including adopting the ability to eat dinner at 8.30pm at night, drink espresso, digest and sleep by 10.30. Yeah, nah. Today, I made a list of words I need to learn for when I go to the doctor next week. Things take a bit more time, and a bit more energy).
And it’s the reason the balance between learning to let go, while having some discipline in my routine, and learning to trust myself even more, is so important. People who appear to be highly functioning may well be highly functioning, but paying a price for it.
We all keep learning, every day. Self-awareness and readiness to admit we are flawed human beings is the first step in the right direction. We all know what to do: eat well, exercise, sleep well, get outdoors…but often those options seem exhausted, or we approach them with the same mindset that traps us in the first place: that we need to master them and do them well.
Many of us don’t have the luxury (hello, career damage) or the voice or the inclination to speak out. Although my struggles are little, and I’m not really convinced I do in fact want to publish this, I think it’s important to have a diversity of stories and voices in the mix; to remember that (old chestnut): everyone you meet is fighting a battle you don’t know about. That even the people who think have sailed through life (and even those you don’t) have had to, or will have to, deal with their stuff. To know that it’s ok to have pyjama days; to rely on your loved ones, but the most important thing of all is to learn to take the best care of yourself.*
* And seek professional help if you need it