I’m going to write some phrases and I want you to ask yourself if you relate to them.
“So much of my energy goes on thinking about the next thing; what’s on the horizon and how to get there.”
“I spend so much time working that I find it hard to make time for non-work socialising, and daily tasks like laundry fall off the end of my to do list.”
“I feel like I’m spinning plates; I can never switch off or I’ll drop them.”
“I constantly put pressure on myself to be better. Spend less time on my phone, focus on my personal project in the evenings instead of watching Netflix, prove myself in my career so I can become a 30 under 30, call my family more.”
“When I don’t achieve these things, I feel like I’m failing and I beat myself up about it.”
Did one or two catch your eye? Maybe all of them? These are things my friends and I say to each other all the time, and reflect a lot of the things I say to my therapist too. I suspect that these feelings are pretty common in most of our day-to-day lives, as new graduates and twentysomethings who have high expectations for ourselves to be functioning on full, 24/7. We don’t seem to permit ourselves to slip up, and as a result, to use my mum’s phrase, burn the candle at both ends. We say “fuck it, I’m fine” and carry on.
And of course, this has a knock on effect on our mental stability. We get anxious. We run on coffee and shit food. Things slip through the net and we feel guilty. We feel like failures for not even being able to manage the base level necessities in our lives, and ultimately that makes us feel like shit.
I feel like I’m beyond the basic tenets of not comparing myself to others and practising self care, so why do I continually fall for the narrative that if I push myself to breaking point, I will succeed? If I know logically that I can’t achieve everything, why do I still hold myself to unattainable standards? When people’s jobs actually started at nine and ended at five, perhaps these expectations could be fulfilled. I like the idea that there was a time where work ended at five and you could go home, make dinner and call your nan instead of coming in at eight or nine and having just enough time to make dinner and watch an episode of Grey’s Anatomy before passing out. And in a world where our jobs involve us attending evening events, flying across the world and going to breakfast meetings, it becomes increasingly difficult to even find time to switch off. We prioritise the things that help us space out, like seeing friends and investing in a series, and then everything else falls to the side.
We talk about self care as a solution or relief from the everyday pressures, but is having a bath or buying a new lipstick the key to the monumental mental to do list sitting at the front of your head 24/7? I think we need to reframe the way we think about self care, from the arguably rudimentary understanding we have at the moment to a more practical methodology.
A lot of it is about changing the way we talk to ourselves about achievement and failure. My therapist suggested having a system in place to support yourself when things begin to go badly, or your mental health takes a turn for the worst. Retraining your inner narrative to be kinder is a good survival tactic. As she said to me, “Nobody ever comes out of being beaten up any stronger than they were when the fight started.” If we put active effort into regularly reminding ourselves that we’re doing the best we can with the cards we’ve been dealt, we should start to cut ourselves some slack without even realising. So what if I can’t get up before eleven on weekends? It’s not the end of the world if I spend a couple of years of Saturdays in bed. Fuck it, I’m sure that we’ll be grateful for all those mornings in bed once we have children who jump on us at six every morning.
It’s about changing the “fuck it, I’ll just power on,” to, “fuck it, I’ll just take a break.” We need to cut ourselves some slack because being real, we’ve got enough on our plates and we don’t need to add our own unrealistic expectations to that. We need to be kinder to ourselves, acknowledge our achievements – even if it’s just remembering to take the bins out – and maybe even meditate a bit. Throw the “fuck it, I’m fine” narrative in the bin. Stop pressuring yourself to be Wonderwoman and let yourself live.