December 9th: The Plank: It has been said that you must learn to take care of yourself before you can be effective at taking care of others. How did you take care of yourself in 2012? How will you take care of yourself in 2013?
I am so good at negative self-talk. I am so good at listening to the horrible, evil, monstrous voice in my head that tells me what shit I am.
You are bad.
You are doing this wrong. Everything you do is wrong.
You should quit while you’re ahead. But you’re not ahead.
Everything you’ve said is wrong.
Nobody likes you.
Give up now.
Maybe everyone has this nagging voice, I don’t know. I don’t hear other people talk about their Self-Doubt Trolls very often — I suppose because it’s an embarrassing thing to have one in the first place. And they’ve all got unique looks, and voices.
I, for one, am an extremely visual person — and so I visualise things and bring them to life and it makes it much easier to deal with things. This, of course, also means that I have vivid dreams and nightmares. For instance, when I had just left my husband, and was living alone for the very first time in my entire life, I had horrific nightmares every time I closed my eyes. But they were embarrassingly childish nightmares about ogres and monsters — all of the self-doubt churning in my head, except with a face — and so I couldn’t tell anyone.
Because what grown woman admits to monsters under the bed?
It wasn’t until I dreamt myself a baseball bat to literally go all whack-a-mole that I managed to get myself out of that funk.
I remembered the monsters, recently, because I was flipping through some old notebooks — I’d been looking for a very specific thing and had instead stumbled across the notes on that time in my life. But then I went even farther back — six or seven years ago, when I was still a sorority advisor.
In the back pockets of my moleskines, I keep relevant items from the time periods the notebooks span. Ticket stubs; boarding passes; printed-out emails; letters never sent. In the pocket of the notebook containing the information for which I’d been searching was a small envelope stuffed with tiny strips of paper from a sorority icebreaker. On each strip was printed some lovely thing that one of the girls in the collegiate chapter I used to supervise had to say about me.
It seems foreign now that the envelope was addressed to “Mrs” me. It seems almost ludicrous that I once had a life in which I wore left-hand rings, and owned a car, and woke up in bed next to my spouse. Sometimes, now, it seems that I have to remind myself and others that I do, in fact, have nearly twenty years of coupled-up experience; that when others talk about relationships or marriages, I am not a stranger to that space.
Sometimes, the voice of self-doubt screams in my ear: You are worthless on your own.
The slips of paper struck a chord for me; reminded me that I spend time trying to encourage others, but am constantly indulging the troll within. How can I be sincere and authentic and strong as a role model or even as a professional when I am constantly cutting myself down?
So I took an empty jar that I had sitting around in my “Cleaning Supplies/Floral Supplies/Party Supplies” bin and decided to put it to good use. Because obviously one has large jars sitting around in the event the urge to arrange flowers strikes, and, where else would one put such a thing but the Cleaning Supplies/Floral Supplies/Party Supplies bin?
It was painfully weird, but I decided that I was going to say nice things to myself. I was going to be obvious about it. Tangible. Visual. I was going to dream myself a whack-a-mole, and write down kind words, and put them in my big glass jar on my desk.
And I did.
What I am trying to say is that I am not great at taking care of myself. I’d like to think I’m pretty good at showing up for others, but my inability to show up for myself is dangerous. And why don’t I?
Am I afraid of coming off as selfish?
Am I scared someone is going to judge me?
Has the troll of self-doubt become so familiar that I’m afraid of leaving my comfort zone?
All of the above?
What it boils down to is that I am visual, and peculiar, and obvious. Now I have a container on my desk for scraps of paper to capture moments that the troll can’t steal. And because slips of paper are small, they can’t be used to overanalyse, or doubt, or second guess.
You can make fun of me if you like, but you might be better served by going out and buying yourself your own big glass jar.