A tuneup for self-talk
I haven’t been my best friend lately
In fact, if I had a friend who behaved toward me the way I’ve been treating myself recently, I’d tell her to piss off and come back when she’d fixed her attitude.
Outwardly, I’m a very nice person. I’m confident that most people who meet me would agree. I’m friendly, interested in people, fairly empathetic, and I like (almost) everyone I meet. I’m not easily offended or judgmental or terribly critical.
Inwardly, it’s a different story. At least it has been lately.
Lately, it’s as though I’ve had the Janis Joplin version of “Down On Me” playing on a continuous loop inside my head:
Down on me, down on meBig Brother and the Holding Company, 1967
Looks like everybody in this whole round world
They’re down on me
Except it isn’t everybody in this whole round world who’s down on me. It’s just me.
Here’s what this sounds like inside my head
Me: I feel sad, bad, and stuck. What’s wrong with me?
Also Me: Good question! What is wrong with you? You’ve got a wonderful, loving husband. Your adult kids are happy and thriving. You no longer have to punch a clock; your time is yours. You’ve got your health. What are you whining about?
Me: You’re right. Who am I to complain? Other people have real problems. What right do I have to feel sad or bad or stuck?
Also Me: My point exactly. So get off your @$$ and go do something productive. That novel you’re vaguely dreaming about isn’t going to write itself.
Me: You’re right! I know you’re right. I shouldn’t be stewing like this. I should be creating something.
Also Me: Damn straight you should, and whatever it is, it’d better be something brilliant or at least worthwhile, to make up for all this time you’ve wasted. So get on it.
Me: I will. I will! I’ll get right on it.
Also Me: You’re still staring out the window. And you have that look on your face.
Me: I’m sorry.
Also Me: You’re sorry, all right. Why aren’t you churning out those novel pages?
Me: I want to. I really do. I should. I know. It’s just, I feel sad. And bad. And stuck.
Also Me: What’s wrong with you?
Me: Good question. I have a wonderful, loving . . .
And so the loop repeats. I’m sure you’ve heard enough.
Granted, we all have down days
Life is great and all, but nobody said it was easy. We all fall into a trough from time to time. And all of us who have survived the division and strife and general unpleasantness of the past six or so years, including the two years we more or less lost to Covid, and that’s assuming we’re not living somewhere war-torn or devastated by climate disaster — my point is, we have all been through some stuff.
Mostly, we’ve gutted it out. We humans have our faults, but generally speaking we are resilient critters.
Speaking strictly for me, I’ve managed to pull myself back up to level ground when I’ve needed to over the course of the past few years, despite the macro calamities (climate, politics, social injustice, etc.) and the more personal challenges (loved ones with chronic illness, professional disappointments, the more humbling aspects of aging, etc.).
Honestly, I’m kind of proud of how well I’ve coped. But that makes it all the more befuddling that I seem to be struggling now. Nothing is materially different than it was a few months ago, after all.
Lately, I keep sliding back into the trough
Reviewing the above inner dialogue, it’s no big mystery as to why. But this has been going on now for some weeks. Maybe even months — gradually, like the proverbial frog in the slowly heating water. And just because I’m aware that whatever I’m doing to goose myself out of the emotional pit isn’t working doesn’t mean I’m able to manage the climb alone.
One gift of the aging process is the realization that time is shorter than you think. I place a high premium on happiness, mine as well as others, and now that I’ve (finally) registered there’s a problem, I have no intention of farting around any longer down here in the trenches than I have to.
I’m getting a hand up
One possible upside of just how hard life has become in general over the past several years is that more attention is, however belatedly, being paid to mental health. There are even indications that tending to one’s mental and emotional well-being is becoming normalized.
Twenty or even ten years ago, nobody wanted to admit to struggling with even the most common of mental health challenges, like depression and anxiety. Today we can at least talk about those things without risking career-ending stigma.
It’s about damn time. Reasonable people don’t expect to get through their entire lives in perfect physical health, without ever once needing a doctor or a physical therapist or even a good exercise and nutrition program. Why should we expect our mental health to withstand the rigors of modern life without some correlating support?
Looking at it that way — and considering the collateral damage of mental ill-health, from intractable unhappiness through dysfunctional relationships, dependencies, and preventable death (in 2020, suicide was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-14 and 25-34) — tending to our minds is as basic a responsibility as taking care of our bodies.
It’s still hard to ask for help
I don’t know about you, but I’ve got decades of obsolete balderdash still rattling around in my head when it comes to seeking therapy. It’s for crazy people; it’s self-indulgent; I should be able to figure this stuff out on my own.
It would be as if I had a three-inch laceration on my arm and decided that if I couldn’t stitch it up all by myself, I’d just put something over it and then not look at it, because doctors are only for people who are in critical condition. All I have is a silly little cut.
A month later, when I couldn’t raise my swollen, stinking arm, I’d wonder how things got this bad.
I’m not waiting until my arm stinks. Help is out there, and I’m going for it. I have an initial appointment with a tele-health counselor set up this week. This won’t be my first rodeo with therapy, so I know better than to expect an instant fix.
But just taking action has some benefit. Just by virtue of throwing out a rope for someone up there to grab, I feel myself finding a foothold.
It’ll take some effort, but when Me and Also Me stop going around in circles and pulling together, it’ll be worth it. I look forward to being topside again.