For those of you who follow my Instagram, I mentioned earlier this week that my next blog post was going to be about the first week "back to school" in hybrid learning. My district put it into action just this past week, and there have been a lot of ups and downs in watching it unfold. It was wild in all ways, to say the least, and I definitely plan on posting about it soon. But amidst the chaos, a lot more has been going on under the surface. In my very first post here, I gave context to the slow, quiet nature that my life has taken on since quarantine. Though it was certainly needed, staying slow and quiet is so unlike me. I need movement, action, excitement and fun at every turn. I crave newness and adventure, and obviously haven't been getting much of it. For a long time I attributed this to my ever-curious nature, the way I was raised, my many fire placements, what have you, and surely those are part of the fuller picture. Maybe the tip of the iceberg. But a realization that has been bubbling for quite some time, never ready to be released to the surface, is that the busyness keeps me distracted. It keeps the world loud so I don't have to hear the silence, so I don't have to get too familiar. Getting quiet, for me, is like stepping into an echo-chamber. It's not comfortable to sit in for too long. I never quite knew why, until this extra-prolonged period of stillness when there was no other choice but to get familiar - get as comfortable as possible. And the answer was so simple.
I never allowed it.
Most of my internal conversations begin with the phrase, "You have to." You have to get up at 7 am on the dot and write in your planner. You have to work out five times a week. You have to be better. You gotta let everyone know you're still relevant, still having a good time. You have to be the best teacher in the school. You have to get better at skating. You gotta be a better partner, friend, sister, cousin, daughter. You have to start playing guitar again. You need to get off your phone and pick up that book you've been trying to read for six months. You have got to start cooking more, stop spending so much money, stop eating like shit. You gotta be nicer to yourself, goddamnit. You have to be better.
No wonder this echo-chamber is so unbearable. Is your self talk anything like mine? If so, read on, perfectionist.
Here's a fun thing, something I never knew until very recently: The "you have to" talk is an obsession. It's a boundary we build around ourselves based on our perceived frameworks of success. The happiest, most attractive people eat well and work out five times a week, obviously. The calmest people read instead of wasting hours on the Instagram explore page. The most-praised teachers are the ones who bend over backward to make sure each and every one of their 150 students knows they are loved. I could go on and on - the point is that I believe these things to be true, and I believe that if I don't achieve them all, essentially always and all at once, I suck. And I know that this is a worn-out subject and we all know by now that self-care is essential. Self-care is the buzzword of the turn of the decade. Everyone is doing it. So then why do we still hold ourselves to achieving all of these things, all at once, all the time?
It could be attributed to a number of things; likely, one of the more prominent ones being the horrifically high-stakes and perfectionism that we have so deeply engrained into our way of living. Its roots are so twisted and tangled and far-stretching down into the rock of Earth that it seems hopeless to dream of tearing them out. It's not an easy mindset to undo within yourself, much less the global population. The expectations run deep. We believe the stories because our parents did, and their parents did, and their parents did, and on and on. We are reliving ancestral trauma of pain and ugliness until we master it. And sometimes we do; sometimes I do. I've gone back to therapy recently, not out of fear but out of curiosity and want. I make and eat delicious and healthy meals from time to time, not to punish myself for the bowls of cereal for dinner in-between, but to give myself a gift of nourishment. These are steps in the right direction.
But I'm still trying so damn hard to get it right, to master it now and forever and never have to think about it again. And that just isn't realistic! We know this, but we forget. We know, but we wish we didn't. Knowing and accepting this means that life is not what we thought it was going to be. It's not what we wanted. One of my greatest life teachers reminds me on the daily that there can be no cap for self-love, especially in a body like mine, so quick to self-criticize. I was asked recently to get even quieter, and as mindful as possible to what my inner voice was saying to her body. The realizations astonished me. All the above I would consider relatively normal among those who are hard on themselves. But good God, you guys, the other night I tried to do a 45-minute meditation and fell asleep a third of the way through. When I woke up, it felt as though my inner-voice was screaming at the body so loudly, she shriveled and crawled to bed in pieces. All because I couldn't stay awake. This was on another level of criticism.
As I said at the beginning, this past week (or month, year, era of life?) has been really up-and-down. School shifts were confusing and awkward, I had a huge blowout fight with my mom that left us both in tears and not speaking the rest of the week, and so I forced myself to stay out of the house during waking hours, mulling about at various grocery stores and going to the gym late. I almost certainly over-caffeinated and under-fed myself. There were some really great moments, but also some incredibly shitty ones. When I sat down in my therapist's waiting room Thursday night, I took note of how my body felt: my head literally buzzing, and the neck down felt like it wasn't even there. Pure exhaustion and overwhelm. In this moment, I said to myself desperately, "Erin...you have got to be nicer to yourself. Why are you doing this? Why can't you just allow yourself to slow down?" I talked about this once we were in session, and Natalie* said to me, "Erin, would you talk to your best friend that way? Would you get mad at her for falling asleep during a meditation...the one bodily exercise meant to get you as psychologically close to sleep as possible?" (I love her snark.) And I had to laugh, because I so frequently forget that I really shouldn't be talking to myself as anything other than a friend. Then I got quite sad, because I realized that I don't think I've ever known how to do this.
I'm only good to myself when I look good, when I feel good, when I'm doing it all right. The moment I slip back, feel lazy, feel unmotivated, I bully myself into getting back up again. But what good does that do? I know by now, so why do I do it?
What really got me this week was a conversation with my dad last night. He had been present for the fight with my mom, and asked me to sit and talk with him a little while after. I was reluctant, but he's usually quite good about these things. I asked him if I should move out, if he and my mom would just be happier without me here. I'm too outspoken, I don't hold my tongue and definitely don't apologize for that, I don't always clean my dishes, and I feel as though they're sick of me and want to return to their quiet lives from when I was away at university. I held back tears, trying to explain how I'm just trying to be a better person, and I don't know how to do that in a way that makes my mom happy.
He said, "Why are you trying so hard? You're already great. You're perfect, in my eyes."
I'm holding the tears again as I write this, because I couldn't and still cannot recall the last time any pairing of words hit me with the same magnitude. I've never allowed myself to believe anyone thought I was perfect, or even great. I've since tried whispering this to myself, and it feels so odd. I'm great? I'm perfect? How can I possibly believe this?
Usually, my weekends are spent running around from town to town, chasing something to do, close friends to spend time with, anything that involves getting up to go. I can't sit still. If I sit still, it means I have to get comfortable. So having this huge lesson thrown at me, I decided to break the habit of movement and really sit with myself over this short weekend. I want to tell myself that I love me, I love this life, I'm great, until I start to believe it. And I don't know where to start - I don't know whether to lay in bed or in the bathtub or make my favorite foods or do my makeup...I don't know whether to hole up in my room and let the feels out for an entire day...I don't know how to do this at all. But I know that I'm capable, and I will...and that's a start.
I know that I will return to this space to continue sharing my story, and the things I discover in life. Yes, I did plan to be talking more about my hobbies and interests in the physical realm, and I promise I will get there. But this needed to be said first, because this space is a devotion to what's real. If you only see my journey in teaching, skating, gardening, and committing to health, you don't witness the raw nature of growth - sometimes there are obstacles. Sometimes the roots get tangled. I want to get familiar with the knowing that these, too, are part of the sacred process. Without them, we don't truly grow. Without the harmful inner-voice, we never learn the meaning of true self-love. Can you give your soul what it needs right now? Can you get quiet to hear the truth of it?
*Name changed for confidentiality purposes.