the end of self-flagellation?

When I first started seeing my current therapist last year, he told me that part of my problem was that I thought I was SUPPOSED TO do too many things.  There are, of course, things that one really IS supposed to do, like eat and sleep, pay the bills, feed the dog, etc.  Those items were getting accomplished, but I was also thinking about all the other SUPPOSED TO things.  When I came home from work in the evening, I was doing the same stuff other people do–eating dinner, checking the internet, reading, watching tv–but in the back of my head was this flashing, scrolling marquee that read, “I’m supposed to be writing! I’m supposed to be posting to my website! I’m supposed to be doing something productive!” Half the time I didn’t even have anything in mind for the “something productive,” but it really bothered me that I wasn’t doing it, whatever it was.

At the height of the SUPPOSED-TOs, I wasn’t enjoying anything I was doing, because whatever I did paled in comparison to some nebulous task I should have been accomplishing instead.

Last night I got home from work at 6, hot and tired from my commute. My evening plans had fallen through, so I had some ideas about other tasks–putting hooks in the bathroom for swimsuits and extra towels, moving the folding chairs to make room for the vacuum cleaner, straightening up the living room, and so forth.

But then I decided to finish watching the episode of True Blood* I’d started on Tuesday, so I got in bed with the dog and my computer** and watched it. Then I didn’t want to get up because I was comfortable, so I put on a South Park episode, and then I fell asleep.  When I woke up at 10, I took the dog out, called my boyfriend, read a little, and ate some grapes while watching another South Park. Then I fell asleep again.

And I didn’t feel guilty about it at all.  The scrolling marquee in the back of my head hasn’t disappeared, but it’s off a lot of the time these days. I can come home and watch TV and fall asleep on the bed, and when I wake up three hours later, instead of thinking “OH MY GOD I DIDN’T GET ANYTHING DONE!” I think, “Gosh, I must have needed that.”

In part I have therapy to credit for this, but I think I’ve also come to terms with what it means to suffer from chronic (albeit well-treated) depression and anxiety.  To keep myself on an even keel, I need to get enough sleep. I need to leave the house every day. I need to eat right and try to exercise. And sometimes I need to turn myself off and do absolutely nothing. If that means I get fewer things done than other people do, that’s okay. Those other people aren’t me.

And I’m getting pretty good at recognizing when I need to turn myself off.  Having my brain is pretty stressful most of the time: I overthink everything, I’m always planning and planning and worrying about worst-case scenarios, and I almost never truly relax.  A brain like that can’t keep going without a little rest, and whether that rest is sleep or just spending an evening doing nothing at all doesn’t seem to matter.

I’m off work all next week, and for awhile I thought I wanted to take a trip somewhere. Why waste my week off staying at home and doing nothing? I thought. But look at this list of places I’ve been so far this year:

Fredericksburg, TX
Houston, TX
Bryan, OH
Long Island, NY
Des Moines, IA

I’m planning a trip to New Orleans this month and a trip to Minnesota for a wedding in September and a trip to St. Louis for Christmas probably, and who knows where else I’ll go. When I thought about that, staying in Austin started to sound pretty good. I can read and sew and do stuff to my apartment, I can go swimming a LOT, I can take day trips to San Antonio and the Guadalupe.

Or if I want, I can do nothing at all.

*This show is not good. But I’m invested in the plot for the time being, so I watch it anyway.

**When I go to work in the mornings, I leave the bedroom A/C on and the living room A/C off, since the former has a thermostat and runs more efficiently.  I turn on the living-room unit when I get home, and then hang out in the bedroom until the living room cools down.  This makes for a lot of watching DVDs and such on my computer after work.

10 thoughts on “the end of self-flagellation?

  1. Because it’s cheesy as hell. Sookie and Bill keep fighting and breaking up and then making up the next time she’s in danger or whatever. The vampire-sheriff thing is dumb. I can barely tell the non-main-character townspeople apart. And now there’s this heavy-handed religious commentary on how religion provides people with an easy way to evaluate non-religious people (i.e. vampires) without having to think about anything in depth.

    Actually that last part’s not so bad.

  2. It’s funny, I’ve settled into a similar place. I put my energy into work and family (both satisfying), and the You Should Be Doing Something Else voices are pretty quiet these days. And so I haven’t updated my website in a year. Or three.

    In some moments that’s disappointing, but usually it’s fine. It seems like living in the present and being okay with it is a skill, and a valuable one. Glad to hear you’re taking it easy!

  3. I know exactly what you’re talking about. I’ve had a pretty severe case of the SUPPOSED TOs for the past few years. I can’t rid myself of the idea that some people manage to work full time and have a family like I do, and they are also earning masters degrees and starting businesses and writing novels and learning foreign languages and doing volunteer work and keeping their houses organized… And because I can’t manage to do all those things, I am a failure. I think getting rid of the SUPPOSED TOs is a lifelong process for people like us. Glad you are making progress.

  4. Alison, I totally, totally get this. I think a LOT of other people do too. Which makes me wonder what it would be like if lots of other people just came out and said these things, too. I’ve found so many times that when I was afraid to admit that I’d reached my limits, but then did it anyway, that other people would say to me later, “I’m glad you did that. I have trouble with that too. You’ve inspired me.” So, yeah. You’ve inspired me.

    I also suffer from/live with depression and anxiety, and at the moment it’s well treated, like yours. But like you’re realizing, I’m also trying to make sure that I get out of the house every day, that I eat well and exercise and get enough sleep. And, lordie, it helps!

    Thanks for this, Alison. And enjoy your time off in your own house “being unproductive” – which we all know actually means letting yourself JUST BE and relax.

  5. I just found your blog, and I have to say this post about SUPPOSED TOs was like reading my own thoughts! I’ve had such a severe case of this the past 3 years as a result of my career path being not so much a path as a dead end road, which leads me to feeling guilty about doing anything that’s not “productive.” So I avoid, and then feel guilty and stressed. I’m sure I could probably benefit from therapy, either that, or just moving to Spain where I’m pretty sure people don’t have these types of problems.

  6. i think a lot of us, who are in their late 20’s, early 30’s can totally relate to this. you reach this age and realize there are a lot things you wanna do but because you are too stressed out from work, you end up staying in bed for the entire weekend and do nothing. but i guess we all go thru this phase. but then again life has its own surprises. so enjoy while the water is still.

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