Yesterday and today have been hard. And I am tired.
Sometimes I feel like I have come so far in conquering all the madness that goes on inside my head. Like it’s all just fallen in to place. And then something happens, or I’m tired or ill (this evening, I am both – yuk) and the façade just crumbles.
I still don’t know how to describe this to you. I am plagued by negative thoughts. And sometimes it’s a thought that is a short, sharp shock. I can look at a friend and think – ‘oh, she’s doing that to brush me off, she must hate me’ – for absolutely no reason. It’s like a knee-jerk reaction.
Working down through the levels of my self-hatred has revealed these thoughts to me. Quite often I wasn’t aware of them, in the past. Then, when I became aware of them, I started trying to fight them off. To shout them down. And I would get frustrated and angry with myself for not being able to stop them.
I got angry with myself because the negative thoughts were making me miserable. The illogicality of that astounds me. And at the same time, it makes me really, really sad, because I did this for a long time, and it was hard, and it hurt. And I got so tired.
I’m getting a bit better with those sort of thoughts. Quite often I feel them – I feel the sting of them, they really hurt. But then, instead of trying to fight them off, I take a step back and say – no. You are not my thoughts. I do not think these things about myself. You are a lie, and I am not going to pay attention to you. Or something to that effect. And it works – and that is awesome. On the vast majority of occasions, the thought turns tail and runs away. It’s like you have just laughed at a Boggart – by facing your fears and turning to the truth of happiness and freedom, you are set free.
[If you are not the massive Harry Potter fan that I am, there is an explanation of Boggarts here]
What I’ve been struggling with this weekend is a far more sneaky and insidious type of thought. This is the sort that takes what I am already thinking and feeling, and twists it. Changes it and makes it something else, something that will be destructive and painful to me in the long term; but which feels innocent and lovely in the short term. So lovely, in fact, that it’s very easy to ignore the inevitable negative outcome.
This sort of thought knows exactly my weak points and targets them, time and time again. It focusses on fears, or desires – the deepest, most powerful ones – and makes me suffer through them.
A tangible example is the only way to go here, I think.
It’s not the most flattering portrait of me, but less prevaricating…
I am past the thirty mark now, and I am still single. I have known and loved – briefly – one or two lovely men, and one or two less than lovely men. But I have never been married. And one of my strongest, deepest, most powerful desires is to be a mother. And to be a mother, I have to be married. I won’t do it any other way. Our entire society is geared around couples and marriage and sex and how wonderful it all is. My childhood was knee-deep in “happily ever after” fairy stories. Despite being the product of a very unhappy marriage, I had always thought that one day, I’ll meet my husband, get married and have my “happily ever after”. At around the lowest point in my life, I realised I was just waiting for that to happen – waiting for my knight to rescue me from everything. I thought I was made to be a wife and a mother – only a wife and a mother, nothing else. Obviously, that didn’t happen.
I have done a lot of work with God on this topic, including having a period where I worked hard to accept that I may never get married. And if I don’t, it will be because God has something else in mind for me – and that will be amazing. Plus, I will be okay. This is pivotal. If God can use me best as a single woman, then I will be okay – I will not be miserable! I have also come to accept that I am so much more than just a wife and a mother. I am God’s stunning creation, full of gifts and talents and love.
[side note; if you choose to be a wife and a mother, that’s awesome. Please don’t think I am being negative about that life choice! I am in total awe of you; having worked as a nanny, I have an inkling of just how tough your course in life can be. Go you!]
But it remains a difficult point for me. And so, when I work with an attractive, intelligent, gentle, and funny doctor, I am vulnerable to his charms. Not that he is doing anything; the very opposite, I’m almost certain he has a girlfriend, and we work together. He’s just a nice guy; we are friends and nothing more. This week we just happen to have been working quite closely together.
The sneaky, quiet, subtle voices in my head are currently working overtime trying to persuade me that this is not true, however. They list his charms when I am thinking of something else. They make me think of him when I am thinking of nothing. They suggest that he probably is single, actually. They paint him as my perfect man. They take the outline of what I know, and colour him in with the shining armour of my well-remembered knight.
Then they start the lovely little stories in my head. Stories where we are out together, having the time of our lives. Or he somehow sweeps me off my feet. He finds out all the awesomeness that makes me up and declares undying love. And of course, that leads to imagining our perfect wedding. And beautiful bilingual children.
This all sounds very nice. But when you are concocting scenarios in your head where you say something fabulously witty and he falls in love with you, you spend all of your time thinking up the perfect thing to say, and then try to shoehorn it in to a conversation that has nothing to do with it. You can’t talk to him, because you are focussing so hard on that one, perfect thing to say that you can’t think of anything else to say. You can’t relax around him. You’re constantly nervous because you must project “amazing” at all times. When you don’t, you beat yourself up about it for days. And you watch his every move, desperate not to miss that slight hint of body language that says “I love you”.
So, a nice thought, a simple crush, becomes a deep, desperate, obsessive thing. I think “infatuation” is the best way to describe it. If only because “obsession” scares me a bit.
What I have described there is the worst it can get to, I think. These days I am much better at seeing the trap early and stopping it before I go completely doolally. But it is so hard, so exhausting, to have to monitor your every thought, to stop yourself from sliding back down that slippery slope – because it happens so fast – one moment you’re laughing at a shared joke from earlier in the day, the next minute you’re planning the wedding.
There is another place that I am vulnerable, and that has been attacked this weekend, too, in so precisely the same method that I’m not going to explain it to you (or this post may never end!).
So I feel completely exhausted. I feel like I have to fight off my every second thought. I try to keep my brain entertained with other things, but it moves pretty fast and can be off down the wrong track instantly. It is so important that I catch it before it goes too far, because once I’m at the wedding planning stage, coming back to reality and teaching myself that he’s not in love with me is so much harder. And so much more painful. It just… It just seems so plausible. So realistic, to harbour a tiny grain of hope. Surely that can’t hurt? But it’s never just a tiny grain. And it’s not realistic – it is a LIE.
I’m trying hard to do a bit of cherishing of myself today. I should have gone running after work; I had a nap, instead. And I had some lovely chats with some lovely friends after church this evening. Laughter is a great restorative. Plus a long snuggle with my lovely rabbit. Looking after myself is not something that comes naturally but I’m learning. Before I wrote this, I spent a long time in journalling prayer, talking to God and letting Him help me find myself again.
If you are having a bad day, please cherish yourself, too. Eat the cake. Turn up the heating. Watch something that makes you laugh; talk to somebody that you love. Try talking to God. He is the most amazing listener. Being completely honest with Him is the most important part for me to overcome days like this (and I will). He does not judge, He does not criticise. Nothing you can say will shock Him. He listens, and He loves you. And sometimes, in the quiet, He will talk to you, and tell you how much He loves you.