Therapy is hard. Point of clarification – my own therapy. The therapy I do for a living – that is different, and I wouldn’t call it “hard.” That, I love. But doing my own therapy has been exhausting.
I feel like I’m unwrapping a mummy, and the only progress I can make is one tiny layer of gauze at a time. So, I walk around and around and around the mummy, to unwrap one layer, then I step back, holding a handful that weighs nothing. Then, I look down into my hand, and I think, this is it!?!
There are a million layers to the mummy. And once in a while, I find a spider. Unpleasant, but useful. No one needs to wander around carrying spiders.
So, I found a spider. Again. With the flowers returning, and the end to a lousy winter with minimal snow, and dreading the coming summer of drought, I rediscovered that I am still terrified of being completely happy. In fact, I am currently trying as hard as I can, to keep myself unhappy.
I have big choices to make, and I’m not making them. I’m just adding more to my life, and sort of setting the mummy on fire. I’m solving some problems, and making others. And, I’m pretty sure that deep in the collection of cells that is me, I am designed to ignore all the clues that would lead me toward comfort and happiness.
Unwrapping this latest layer has revealed something to me. It is a simple little thing, really, but it’s got me completely twisted up. Truly: I put my underwear on inside out today, because late last night, I realized that adult is to salary and credentials as child is to grades. And I am struggling to make the career moves I know will better serve me because of this.
Grades is a tricky one for little stressed out kids. People are quick to tell them “grades don’t matter, and you’re shallow, and stupid for letting grades matter.” People are very quick to socially discipline kids for getting upset over grades, sometimes so upset they completely freak out and lose all self respect or desire to live. Yes, people still contemplate and sometimes attempt suicide over grades. Or career stressors.
But really, to a kid who is filled with self doubt, and terrified of the big openness of life, and absolutely certain that the world will swallow them up and they will suffer immensely through that process, grades can help. They give structure. They are proof that the task has been done correctly. They soothe. They are not gray or abstract or vague. They are simple. They tell us we are doing ok. And if you can get A’s, you can pretty much shore yourself up. Run the adult version through this same paragraph, with dollars in place of A’s. Bad news.
And if you can’t bring dollars or A’s, that raises a whole different problem. I would argue for this reason, these measures are too harsh, and altogether punitive. They don’t feed us properly. And we sometimes react off of them poorly, getting caught up in some kind of adult-style freak out/lost perspective/s*it storm. Why aren’t your grades better? You’re not fulfilling your potential. You’re not trying. I’m not earning enough. My car is too old. Ad naseum.
Had I known, when I was little, that a C is a perfectly acceptable indication that I’ve learned enough of the material to move along to the next step of the endless trudging that is elementary/middle/high school, I would have been a C-getting son of a gun. That is because, in my last walk around the mummy, I wrote these words on a piece of paper, and nothing I’ve ever written is more true or more sad: “You’ve spent your whole life being a perfectionist, and you’re not even happy.” Spider.
I never set out to be a “perfectionist.” I just didn’t know there were other options. The pressure got to me. I responded to it. I was afraid to stand still and see what might happen if I didn’t perform. And this too, is tricky, because the pressure came from the sky, like some kind of acid rain. Certainly, lots of people unknowingly reinforced it along the last many years of my life, but really, it was a trap I didn’t know I was in, and therefore never thought to step out of.
Disappointing others is mixed up in there somewhere, and for me, is perhaps the bait that gets me into that trap. I know this too, because that spider broke free recently too: It is easier, for me, to just do what I am asked to do. I justify it a hundred different ways, but it always sounds like this: Sure I can do that. (Because I can always do “that,” until I can’t.)
I’m agreeable by nature, and a helper, and a pleaser. It’s really hard to face that, and split out how that serves me and where it breaks me down. And oddly, it’s not about the acceptance I gain from others, thought that is high on the list of reinforcers; it’s about the grade (still). A = I can do it, I can help, I’m your girl, I have a place, I have value. The social piece really comes later, when I realize I’m sort of lonely, far from my hub, and don’t really know who I am.
Now, with these spiders sprinting off into the shrubbery, I need to catch them, and look them over, and see what they are about. I need to make friends with them. I need to stop feeling afraid of them, and I don’t like that much at all. I also know, if I can do it, there is peace on the other side, and I can navigate my way back to something that feels right for me. And I’m happy to say, I think I’m really close.