The last year’s been something of a wild ride, and I can’t blame L for changing up her client schedule to drop out of our weekly work dates. It’s true I still work best with an accountability partner, but I was doing fine BEFORE she joined me for Tuesday mornings. I just decided to take the opportunity to give myself permission to sleep in on Tuesdays instead of getting up and coming downtown in an attempt to exercise some high-level cognitive function.
Truth be told, I kinda miss it. Apparently enough that in the middle of a Day 2 Migraine I’m squinting through one eye at my laptop trying to amass some thoughts into coherence.
Last year was all about rearranging my life quite drastically in the wake of coming to grips with my own long-term high-functioning depression. I spent the winter taking stock of just about every aspect of my life and decided that, on the assumption that my depression was (likely) largely the result of suppressed emotional Stuff, I needed to find the things about which I used to have Feeeeeeeelings, and find out what happened to them in my life. Work, family of origin, intimate relationships, personal creativity, self-image and self-worth… y’know, all the shit we as therapists challenge our own clients to confront every now and then. To that end, I spent the year working intently with my own therapist of twenty years, especially after the latest wheels-coming-off-wagons in my family of origin last spring, coupled with the arrival of new potential romantic relationships. Then in the spring, I found my long-lost creative muse and took off on what at first seemed like it could only be a manic surge of productivity. Well, that supposedly-manic break has now lasted a solid year, and I just reset the project whiteboard in my revamped Studio for 2020’s endeavours. I’ve retrained myself in languishing skills and taught myself a bunch of new ones along the way. It’s been pretty great.
The depression is still an ever-present part of my life. There are days, even weeks (especially over the winter) where the weight sitting on my mind and body stifles my energy something fierce, and very little beyond the absolute necessity gets done. If there’s one BIG takeaway from observing myself learn to work around the depression in the last year and a half, it’s the necessity of learning to let go of the SHOULDs, those internalized beliefs of what I SHOULD be doing, how I SHOULD be behaving, the efforts I SHOULD be putting into my life, my work, my loves, my job. And somewhere along the way I found the permission I needed to just let go of a lot of that shit. Granted, it’s easier to do when you’re single and have no kids, because you’re not changing the expectations or rules of engagement on people trying to cohabitate with you. You still need to communicate with others around you, but it’s easier when they’re not rooted in the same kinds of dependencies.
I gave myself permission to NOT:
- worry about keeping my home spotless, so long as the office and transit path for clients remains tidy enough to be not wholly embarrassing.
- worry about doing dishes daily; my kitchen is now a happy disaster through most of the week until I have time and energy on MY schedule to do my dishes.
- worry about keeping in touch with everyone all the time; regular contact with my intimates in whatever form those relationships have morphed to, but I don’t try to connect with my entire social tribe all the time now.
- try to keep up with my own fears; work is the biggest place where this drives me, in that I have long feared the “if I don’t work I don’t get paid” reality of being an hourly contractor. This has lead to taking a lot of time off the uptown schedule over the summer and eventually changing how we handled intakes (a work in progress), paying someone else to take over my bookkeeping, cutting back the hours in my home practice considerably, rejigging my budget hard after a summer of creative (unplanned) expenses, and more recently, increasing fees uptown. I’ve known for years that I work more hours than is generally recommended for people doing the kind of work we do, but I’ve been sticking by the “need to do it anyway” out of financial fear. Giving myself permission to relax that a little bit was probably the most important change of this past year. I’m still far from comfortable with believing “it will all work out in the wash”, but I’m recognizing there’s an unsustainable cost to driving myself as hard as I have been, too.
- chase after people who don’t show value for *me*, and not just because of what I can do for them. That’s been a huge internal confrontation because it taps into family of origin issues as well as long-held interpersonal ones. Yet I feel SO MUCH BETTER once I finally stop waiting for people’s approval, forgiveness, interest, desire, time, attention…
- suppress my creative bent because I’m afraid other people won’t like what I make, or won’t like the time I take away from my availability to them to do my own creative “thang”. Nor will I continue to suppress making stuff that makes me happy because I’m afraid I won’t do it well; this past year has been all about learning and relearning and not getting torn up over mistakes. Shit happens. Learn from it. Do differently next time. Learn from THOSE mistakes. Keep going.
- beat myself up for not reading as much as I *SHOULD*, not doing as much professional development as I *SHOULD*, not building my private practice business as much as I *SHOULD* (comparatively speaking, of course; in truth, I’m doing okay on all fronts but I look at colleagues and constantly wonder about the feeling that I *SHOULD* be doing SO MUCH MORE)
Unsurprisingly, a lot of people, women with Supermom complexes in particular, are coming to their senses and dropping out of the race to keep up with the SHOULDs. This article in particular resonates with me every time I come back to it (for all that I’m not a mom, so some of her “I Don’ts” don’t apply here).
And of course, I realised that I’m part of The Problem. My life, from the outside, looks like I “do it all”. And from the inside, of course, it feels like I barely do anything. The nature of many women is that we can only see our shortcomings and never our strengths.
But now I can see that what women really need to hear is not how other women “do it all”, so that we can mimic their to-do lists and add more and more to our cracking plates. No. We need to hear what other women aren’t doing.
Because we all have an ‘I Don’t’ List. And every one will be different. Most of us don’t have endless choice about what we do and what we don’t. Often there’s simply no one else to bloody well do it, so prioritising gets brutal. Some of us shirk the domestic in favour of the professional. Others choose to let the endless demands of work leap off the bottom of the list in favour of home. Some people love to, say, bake, while for others it feels like an exam they’ll always fail.
My life is not perfect. It’s not always happy, it’s often not even on anything resembling an even keel by some external standards. But it’s opened internal doors I haven’t stood in front of for literal years in some cases. And there are feelings behind all those doors that I haven’t invited in for literal years either. The point of this entire exercise was to shift even a little bit out of the depressive flatlining into something that encourages me to be more aware of and engaging in my own emotional landscape. Honestly, I’m still a lot further down the emotional volatility scale than I ever have been, but ultimately I don’t see that as being a bad thing. I’ve come a fair way up from flatline, and I’m a LOT harder to provoke nowadays into something explosive. I don’t have a lot of balance between work and play yet, but that may be the lesson ahead of me in 2020 (it would be a lesson 53 years in the making if I want to be completely honest about that one).
Letting go of the SHOULDS has made space for some valuable things for me. It’s work I intend to keep doing, because it has quite literally been a game-changer for me. It’s also made a lot of things more clear about the process of “becoming” who we’re maybe meant to be as we strip away the dreck and dross of those applied values and narratives. And it’s given me huge compassion for the clients embarking on these kinds of journeys in my office. It’s one powerful thing to be able to say, “I see you”, but something entirely different, yet equally powerful, to say, “I’m right there with you; I GET it.”
So here’s to the journeys of 2020. And maybe to the occasional blog post along the way to capture the thoughts that are a part of said journey. (Probably not weekly; I still vastly prefer sleeping in on my Tuesdays…)