This week, I have been struggling with guilt.
Guilt is an emotion I’ve struggled with for years, one that I wish I could let go of and move on from.
I always worry about being enough. I want to be enough, for myself, for everyone around me, for everyone I love. For years, I have wrestled with being a good enough daughter, a good enough sister, a good enough wife or coworker or friend. A good enough writer or dancer or artist. Brave enough, confident enough.
We always tell ourselves that we don’t care about what other people think — and sometimes, we really don’t, and sometimes, we really do. And that’s where, I think, guilt comes in. I struggle with free time, with down time, with self care time. I work hard all through out the week to get enough done so that by Saturday afternoon or Sunday, I can take a nap, and then…that scheduled time comes around and I can’t sleep because I’m guilty thinking about all the things I ought to be doing. The housework I ought to be completing, the baby prep I ought to be doing. Did I exercise enough this week, did I food prep for the week ahead, am I prepared for dance class and projects I need to complete this week? I end up wasting more time tossing and turning, talking myself out of getting up and working, only to finally fall into an exhausted sleep just a little bit before I have to get up.
Anxiety and guilt, I think, go hand in hand. The anxious mind does not rest, the anxious mind can’t be convinced, there is plenty of time and I am handling all my responsibilities in baby steps, a little each day. The anxious mind is prone to panic, the anxious mind thinks all times are NOW, all deadlines are now. The anxious mind convinces us that we will be a failure if we don’t exhaust ourselves doing 100 million little things right this instant. If we are practiced in handling anxiety, maybe we can remember to take the time to stop and talk to that anxious voice — you are okay. You are doing just fine. Let this go, there is nothing we can do about this worry in this moment. We will handle this when the appropriate time arrives, and that moment is not right now.
The anxious mind is persistent, though, and it can take a powerful resolve and a powerful determination to keep having that talk and keep fighting that fight.
My anxiety (in case you couldn’t tell) has been particularly bad this past week or so. And the weird thing is? I’m not really worried about anything in particular. There are times when we have a sense of dread and unease over a particular issue, and that sense of dread filters through every facet of our life and we feel it everywhere, at work or home or in relationships — but we know what the cause is. Times when we’re short on money and know we won’t be on top again until pay day in two weeks — and until then, we just have to endure. Times when we’re struggling with a particular relationship that seems to be troublesome at the moment, and we can’t stop thinking about that person until the issue is resolved. We might feel that anxiety always, but we know where it’s coming from.
I can’t say that that is necessarily my problem right now. I’m blissfully happy, 70% of the time. Spring is here, the pear trees are blooming and the Japanese Magnolias are blooming, and the forsythia glows yellow, and we get these beautiful days of sunshine and blue skies. I’m wearing sandals pretty much all the time now, a couple times I’ve managed a dress. This is my favourite time of year, and I’ve been amazed by how much my mood has improved from the earliest part of the year. I love going on long walks around the neighborhood with Shaun after work, I love meeting friends for lunch or little get togethers, I love planning outings to the park or the homeplace for the kids. I love having packages come in the mail, and putting together our cosleeper bassinet or her shelves with baskets for all her little clothes and socks. I love sitting outside with Shaun while he grills us a healthy dinner, I love feeling my sweet baby kick me any time of day, I love snuggling up against Shaun on the couch in the evening and having him kiss my hair and rub my belly, trying to feel the baby kick on the outside.
Nothing in particular is bothering me, and yet my anxiety seems to be on a hair trigger, and any little thing can set me off. I miss a call from a loved one, someone at work says something I don’t agree with, Shaun has to go to work, I indulge in eating something other than vegetables and lean protein, the baby hasn’t kicked in a couple hours, I decide I want to stay home and have some quiet time rather than accept an invitation somewhere. BAM, there I am. Heart pounding, mind busy worrying if my loved one thinks I hate them/if I will keep the house clean enough/if I’m not being social enough/if I’m not being healthy enough/if everything is OK with baby girl.
I think with anxiety, and the guilt that follows; at first, it seems we really only have to options: wallow, or power through.
Wallow usually seems like the easier option — I cannot get out of bed, I cannot put on clean clothes, I cannot do the little things that would make me feel better. We have to lie here, on the couch, binge watching a show we don’t even like while we think about how bad we feel, how behind we are, how much we have to do. The mental weight of all these worries crushes us, and we are too heavy, too exhausted to get up and deal with them.
More often than wallowing, I find myself on the alternate path — powering through. And while it might seem like the better option, I’ve found it can be just as harmful to my emotional state in the long run. Sure, on the surface, it seems like the better route — I force myself to get up, I force myself to clean, to correspond, to be social, to take a walk and do some crunches, to food prep. I visit people even when I’m tired, I offer to take on projects I don’t want to — I strive to be that Perfect, Impossible Woman I still somehow believe I can be. I seek to prove to myself that perfection is possible, when it isn’t. And the thing is? After I’ve exhausted myself, and exhausted every possible task I could set before myself in order to validate that I’m an OK employee/daughter/wife/sister/mother-to-be — I’ve still not dealt with the anxiety. I push myself, I drive myself forward, in fear of failing, in fear of disappointing myself yet again. I arrive at those scheduled rest periods at the end of the day or the end of the week — and I still cannot deal with myself, I still cannot still my unquiet mind, and I find myself no better off than if I had stayed on the couch and wallowed.
The truth is — sometimes we have to just stop and stare Anxiety and Guilt in the face. I see you. Hiding from anxiety, whether through inaction or over-action, doesn’t solve anything. In ignoring it, in wishing that an anxious mind were not the reality we are saddled with — we allow it to grow and fester. We allow it to take over our brains and take control. We allow it to seep into every moment and every step of the day — and sometimes, we don’t even realize it. Sometimes, we accept these frantic, obsessive thoughts as normal — I‘m just busy. I’ve just got a lot on my plate right now. We make excuses, and we keep getting wound up tighter and tighter.
I sometimes wish I had a life coach to be with me constantly, always validating me and reminding me I’m OK and doing a good job. Then I remember that life coach is me.
When faced with anxious periods, we forget we can be the ones to stay stop. We don’t want to admit that we’re anxious or that this sick part of our brains has such a strong hold of us. But today, as I kept crying after Shaun left for work, as I kept making lists of Things I Had to Get Done Today on Sunday, my Day of Rest — I realized I wasn’t dealing with my anxiety, I was avoiding it.
Sometimes, the only thing that works is being that life coach for ourselves. Stopping, and sitting still. Turning off the TV and putting down the phone. Not hopping in the car and speeding off to buy something to distract us, or creating a social environment to buoy us through for another hour. Cultivating stillness. Cultivating quiet and calm. Sitting still and really talking to ourselves, telling ourselves, I am doing OK. I am working hard. Forcing ourselves to see our actual reality, and not the version our anxiety would have us believe to be true. Reminding ourselves that perfection isn’t possible — that we could clean every moment of every day and the hamper would still fill up and the fridge would eventually empty, because that’s how life works. Reminding ourselves that we cannot be everything for everyone, all of the time. Reminding ourselves that we have limits, and that we are only human. Reminding ourselves that if we let ourselves become obsessed with an idealistic version of ourselves, and only work towards that — then we will be missing a huge part of life, the most important part — the actual living.
Anxiety makes us fearful, and being fearful makes us forget what joy feels like. If we cannot stop and look at the little lives we’ve built, these beautiful, tender lives that we are lucky enough to be living, we forget our joyful selves, our true selves.
If you’re reading this, you’re more than likely an anxious person. You’re more than likely someone who knows what it feels like to let your brain drive itself out of control — and what I want to say to you right now is you are doing fine. It’s hard to trust your gut when your gut is currently set to Panic Mode, but please listen to me when I say — it’s OK to believe that you are doing good enough. It’s OK to believe that you are doing the best you can right now — because you are. It’s OK for you to take a nap, it’s OK for you to get a milkshake, it’s OK not to listen to other people’s advice, it’s OK to do things the way you want to do them. It is OK for you to live your life the way you want to, and it’s OK not to make anyone else’s priorities yours. It’s OK to tune out the world and tune out Facebook and Instagram and stop worrying about whether your house is decorated as nicely or if you can run a single mile, let alone five. It’s OK if you fed your kids chicken nuggets and applesauce because they won’t eat anything else. It’s OK if you think high heels are stupid and you’d rather not wear them for anything less than a wedding. It’s OK to let that phone call go to voice mail and call them back later when you’re feeling calmer.
Let’s try and help each other remember — we don’t have to wait until we feel terrible. We don’t have to wait until the crushing worry is so bad we can barely function. Let’s help each other remember to stop, to breath, to give ourselves permission to be whole and human and imperfect, and therefore, perfect, just as we already are.