For years, I’ve had a nasty habit of beating myself up.
Last fall, hours before I was leaving on a road trip to see my brother in Florida, I couldn’t find the special toy I had bought for his new baby girl. I burst into a tirade against myself — full of I can’t believe how stupid I am I moved everything around and now I don’t know where I put it and tears and tears and tears. I was so, so mad at myself for not being able to bring my gift to my baby niece, the gift I had bought her as a “welcome to the world” present. Mind you, I had just gotten home from a three hour class and had worked earlier that day for a full eight hours. It was close to midnight and we were starting a 24 hour road trip. But, to me, it didn’t matter that I was tired and mentally drained and would spend much of the time on the road working on my laptop in the passenger seat. It didn’t matter that my niece was too little to play with the toy anyway. I still thought I should do better, be more organized, find the stupid toy. It took me hours to calm down and days to forgive myself.
Of course, because I’m human and because I’m forgetful, I’m still making these kinds of mistakes. On Friday, as I was driving to my cabin to stay for the weekend, I realized something. I had printed out three short stories to read and edit while I was sitting around this weekend, and I forgot them, sitting right there on the printer.
My initial reaction was to think to myself — I’m such an idiot. I can’t believe I went and wasted twenty-five pieces of paper and oh, also, I won’t be able to meet my goals this week because one of them, which I consider one of the most important, was to edit three short stories exactly. Also, it turns out I have three short stories left on my computer to edit and get ready for submission, so if I would have just brought them I could have all of my short stories out at magazines being considered for submission.
But just as I was about to spiral out of control into tailspins about how I had looked right at them halfway printed, added more paper, and then walked away to do something else, I stopped myself. This is a thing that I’ve been trying to do lately. Change my negative self-talk, stop beating myself up. So I stopped, and I thought to myself: No, I’m not stupid. It’s okay to forget things sometimes. Think of solutions to the problem rather than going over your mistake again and again in your head.
And so I tried to be logical. I thought, well, maybe this is a sign I need to slow down. Most literary magazines I want to submit to aren’t open for submissions until September or later, anyway. I have a few weeks to get these polished and ready. And, also, I can just edit these stories a bit on my computer, because I brought that with me. No, it won’t be as detailed an edit. But it will be an edit. And then, finally, I realized that I could print on the backs of the older drafts when I got home, so I wouldn’t waste as much paper as I would if I just recycled them straight away.
Solutions all around.
In five minutes, I went from being on the verge of an anxiety attack to instead, simply finding a solution to my mistake. I turned my negative self-talk into a solution to my problem. And then I remembered all the great things I did this past week — like going through all of my books and reorganizing them, fixing up my closet, posting on this blog again. I suddenly felt pretty proud of my hard work.
And, I even got to enjoy the sunset Friday night.
This has been a big existential shift for me and I’m still working hard on it. I am so prone to beating myself down with negativity that now I’m almost fighting against instinct, but I’m doing it. And it’s making a big difference.
I guess I’m writing about this because I find that my mood is deeply affected by the voice in my head, and so often it’s hard for me to recognize that I really need to take a step back and re-evaluate what I’m saying to myself.
I think that now I’m out of school and out of work and focusing on myself and my personal work and development 100% of the time, I’m getting a lot better at it. I worry about going back to work because I worry that when I get wrapped up in something else and still feel obligated to my own writing and my own self-care, I’ll lose my resolve and go back into that negative headspace again.
I’m writing this down so that maybe I’ll read it again when I’ll really need it and then I’ll remind myself, again, that I control what goes on inside my own head. That I can choose to focus on the problem or choose to focus on the solution, and either way, it’s my choice.
Maybe that resonates with you, too, internet reader. I hope that it makes a difference for you as well, even if it’s a small one.
I feel like I should add here in the beginnings of whatever this space will become to me that this will never be a place that supports white supremacy or racism and I am appalled by the hate and the terrorism that occurred this weekend in Charlottesville, VA. I do and always will support equal rights for people of every race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ETC. If you are a living being in this world I love you and I support you. Please, always be brave enough to stand up tall against hate.