A Fish that Doesn’t Swim

I’m certain that this will come as a shock to you, so it might be best if you read this sitting down.

Several people in my life have told me that I am, in fact, too hard on myself.

I know, I know, why would they say such a thing? That’s not like me at all!

Except that I know it is, and even though I know it’s true, it still doesn’t seem to help.

Well, that’s not entirely truthful. I’ve definitely learned how to tone it down recently. I no longer feel the need to call myself a lazy loser if my only accomplishment for the day is reading thirty pages of a book, or threaten myself with visions of future doom and destitution if I don’t manage to write anything creative by the end of the day. Life is stressful and difficult and tiring as it is without adding on all this internal pressure to do more, do better, be better.

I know I’m not alone in this idea of being too hard on myself, and I’ve seen it in some of my friends too. These impossibly high standards, this very strict definition of success, this merciless idea of what is “acceptable”. It’s an understandable trap, the desire to do more, because it comes from all the best intentions. We believe we can do amazing things, we want to do amazing things, and we want to constantly push ourselves to do the best we possibly can and always strive to improve.

It’s great to want to improve and make or do something you’re proud of.

There is, of course, a point where it goes too far, as is the case with most things.

Because when you start pushing yourself for more and better and greater, you sometimes forget that you’ve actually achieved quite a lot.

And when you start basing your worth as a creator or a person on how “well” you think you’re doing or how much content you’re producing?

That’s a dangerous game.

One big thing I’ve experienced while being depressed is that it is absolutely impossible to live up to any of my high standards while simultaneously fighting through a mental illness. In fact, it’s impossible to even be able to do what I was doing before, which I used to think was “barely adequate”.

No focus, no energy, no motivation. It makes those already sky-high standards feel truly exorbitant.

So as somebody who is often too hard on myself, not being able to accomplish very much is beyond frustrating. It started to eat into my sense of worth, my sense of value. If I’m not producing 2000 words in a day, what kind of writer does that make me? If I’m not writing stories to share, then what am I doing with my time besides wasting it?

It was really easy to fall into this trap of “wasted time”, as if every minute of the day had to be spent doing something “meaningful”.

It’s probably pretty obvious that beating up on yourself like that isn’t a good way to feel better when you’re depressed.

So. Slowly (and painfully), I had to learn to not be hard on myself. Which felt a little bit like telling a fish not to swim, or a dog not to wag its tail when it’s happy. I had to let go of this idea of “wasted time”, I had to let go of this idea of my value being in how many words or stories I was writing, I had to let go of this idea that it’s not okay for me to spend my time reading books and watching YouTube videos and eating snacks in bed.

Because it is okay to do those things. Of course it is.

There is no right or wrong way to spend your time, as long as it’s something you feel is good for you.

Just because you’re not producing or accomplishing something does not at all decrease your worth as a person.

Not gonna lie, for a long time it felt like if I stopped pushing myself, if I told myself it was okay to spend my evening lying in bed listening to music instead of writing, then I would never do the work that makes me feel happy and meaningful and I would never feel better. But making myself feel guilty for not being able to do very much work wasn’t making me feel good at all.

It does feel better, to just accept your limitations. To be gentle with yourself. To admit that broken bones can only heal if you give them lots of rest.

I know that the world favours the capable, that it praises those who can do big, remarkable things, and it feels lonely and disappointing to not be one of the achievers. But it doesn’t stop you from being beautiful or wonderful or incredible or important.

You can be sprawled out on the couch for hours watching Netflix and still have a gorgeous head full of astounding hopes and dreams and beliefs.

You can be wrapped up in a blanket in a dark room and still have a breathtaking heart that is brave and loving and kind.

You can spend your time doing nothing but breathing and still have a laugh that makes the earth shiver and a smile that makes the sun soar and a body made of atoms that started their lives in the hearts of stars.

Your worth will never be tied to how much you can do, you hear me?

You have my full and wholehearted permission to stop being hard on yourself.

I know, it’s like telling a fish not to swim. But you’ll get used to it.

Turns out, floating is kind of nice.

-Alex

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2 thoughts on “A Fish that Doesn’t Swim

  1. It was a startling realization as an adult living on her own that I COULD sit and stare at the wall. I have worked two or three jobs AND had a busy social life AND kept up with hobbies for so long that I felt lazy for needing time to breathe. Now when I don’t have energy to write or even read, I don’t guilt myself for wanting to play a mindless video game once in awhile. I’m an adult responsible only for myself. I work hard every day. I pay my bills on time. If the laundry doesn’t get done one night, *shrugs* oh well. It’s not hurting anything.

    Great post. Thanka for sharing. Show a little self love once in awhile.

    • It really is a weird thing at first because I think we learn that being busy = being happy (which is certainly the case in many instances), and so it seems counter-intuitive to NOT do those things when something’s off and we’re not happy. But it’s so freeing to be able to just take it easy on yourself every once in a while. Like you say, it’s not the end of the world if a task takes a little longer. Thank you for the comment! :)

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