The Price of Guilt

Yesterday I was a bit out of sorts. Exhaustion had set in, and guilt wasn’t far behind. Lately my life has felt like a series of struggles where the end result of my efforts lead to neutral feelings and minimal output. Everything is harder lately. In fact, since my body had a chance to relax a couple months ago I haven’t been quite the same. In the last 4 plus years since starting my business I have worked an average of somewhere around 75 hours a week. There’s also been more weeks than I care to count that I topped the 90 hour mark. My business is my life, and I give to it freely and happily. The thing is though, my typical 2 hours of daily self care has brought me a net loss in my functionality as of late. 3 hours is what it’s been taking to get neutral again.

This is so unlike me. I am a GO! GO! GO! person. It’s the only way I know.

15 year old me was the exact opposite, and she seems to be attempting a coup right now. When I took that mini vacation a couple months ago I took time to be unstructured, unproductive, and relax. My mind began to remember all those days as a 15 year old when I would sit on the edge of my twin bed with a giant bowl of ice cream and watch Scooby Doo marathons swishing my feet back and forth (surrounded by far more Elmo stuffed animals than I’d like to admit). That time in life where I felt no responsibilities (even if I had many), when I considered my own wants and needs and acted on them without hesitation, and  when the simplest things made me SO HAPPY! Ok, that last part has maybe become more prevalent over time, but the other two have been stifled by guilt so intensely that I’m sometimes afraid I’ll never get back the ability to care more for myself than those around me. Bleh.

Here’s what happened yesterday: I went to soak with my best friend,  we had lunch, and we cuddled up for a nap with her cat. It was lovely and exactly what I needed. After maybe 45 minutes of cuddles and purrs I got this motivation in me that used to be my normal. I was ready to take on the world. My brain fired up and all the switches were switched, wires were connected, and the countdown to the first of many activities was on the countdown.

I got up, gave her a kiss on the top of the head, and walked down the street to my car. It was pouring rain. The kind of pouring rain that brings joy to my inner 15 year old who grew up on the coast where it rains most of the time and I feel at home. I smile this huge smile and look up to greet the rain on my face. This being Oregon, the one person who saw me obviously underdressed in my little lace shawl and short sleeve dress, said “Isn’t it nice to have the rain back?” instead of something along the lines of “isn’t this miserable or aren’t you freezing?” This is something I love about it here. But back to the story at hand. I got to my car drenched and decided that I needed to stop home to change if I was going to be ready to run errands.

I bring in the glass recycle bin, give the roomy’s dogs some love, and plop down on my bed to rework my plan. As I lie there it hits me how exhausted I am. It’s somehow as if my bones have been turned to cement while my stomach has been flipped upside down at the thought of ever moving again.

My brain goes on strike as my eyes beg to cry from the need to go, to do, to be something I can’t. The eternal struggle between I must and I can’t fight it out while I lie there attempting to make sense of it all. “It’s my day off I should do whatever I WANT to do.” is followed by “Look at this mess. Look at this and this and remember this and what about these 12 other things?” from the driven part of my guilt-ridden, nothing’s ever good enough just ask your dad, portion of my brain. My logical response to the obvious emotional outburst of my guilty mind is to listen to my body, and lately it wins. Not by overcoming the silly guilt response I have oh so naturally built into me, but by the immense overpowering lack that I am consumed by lately.

I am tired. I have given too much. I am broken and numb and oh so exhausted. I lie there through the torture of this back and forth getting up only when the guilt wins. I do laundry. I take dishes to the sink. I straighten out the bed again. I lie down. I look around. I see this and that and all the other things that I have gone so long ignoring because there’s not time nor energy to person AND business, so business wins because it has to.

This all comes to a head when I, for the eleventeenth time stop myself from resting (as the guilt is SO winning today) to take the air conditioner out of the window.

It’s been sitting there unused for weeks and the light that gets in from that window prevents my sleeping in, and that’s important enough to do something about. Of course I don’t have the energy or brainpower to make a legit plan, so I hack together bits and pieces of common sense to make it work. “Ok, move the laptops off the table. Now clear the crap off the chair so I can climb on the desk. Move the plants. Ok, good. Umm…there might be water that leaks out I’ll put a towel over the desk.”

I climb up on the chair and then the table. I open the window further after I toss the plexiglass on the bed holding onto the ac with one hand. I grab the ac from the back and from the front and tip it to see how heavy it is. It seems fine.

As I grab onto the back my fingers dent into the metal mesh backing that (as I later found out) slices into my fingers in tiny precise lines across the tip of my nail beds, I lift up and sway backward slightly from the uneven weight. I look around, realizing that the place I was going to put the air conditioner is now the space where I’m standing.

The bed is too far away. Crap I forgot to unplug it. I’m feeling so weak. I swivel and began to feel like I’m going to fall so I stagger myself somehow onto the chair as I thud the unit onto the desk where I had just been. As I do this I spin around and step off the chair just in time to hear the crash of my great grandmother’s cookie jar falling to the floor, splitting into a thousand heart-wrenching pieces.

The same as my great grandma’s jar

I think to myself “How did that even get there? I swear it wasn’t there when I started this. Oh wait, yes it was. I just didn’t think about it because it was so far over. Oh my god. I broke the only piece I had left of my great grandmother’s belongings. The one thing that linked her to our family. I was the one who was keeping it safe. I broke it beyond repair. It’s gone, fading away, like so many other memories.”

I am devastated and distraught. I am so exhausted that only 2 tiny tears make their way to the surface. I sit, heart racing, brain crying in agony. This is what I get for letting the guilt win. For not resting when I know I need to. For knowing better, but not doing better.

Deep breath. Oh yeah, I realize now that my fingers are throbbing too. Oh, I cut the backs of my fingertips all up on the back of the stupid thing. Now I have to deal with another thing I don’t have energy for.

I can’t convince myself to make it all the way to bathroom to get the hydrogen peroxide, so I go in my back stock and find some antibacterial hand wipes. I clean my hands. Luckily not much blood, and somehow because of the sense of shock I’m experiencing I barely even notice the pain of alcohol mixing with the bits of open flesh on my hands.

I assess the damage to the jar. It’s toast. At least I had taken the time to put a post it inside with the name and maker of the jar a few years ago. It will never be hers again, but at least I can replace it in some small way and keep that feeling of her with me.

In the last few years, doing this work, I have learned better ways to cope. Unlike many other times in my life where I would beat myself up endlessly for this I was able to acknowledge my mistakes, accept what had happened, and instead of blaming myself endlessly or beating myself up I took a deep breath and moved forward. There’s no undoing this, but there’s no sense in causing myself more pain either. I have my memories, and when I don’t the thing is what will there be to miss anyway? The whole I don’t know what i don’t know concept. Humans equals mistakes equals acceptance. I acknowledge and accept who and where I am at. It’s ok that I made a mistake. It’s ok that I’m exhausted. It’s also ok that I don’t’ have it in me to always do so much. It’s ok that I don’t always know how to best care for myself. It’s ok that I have WAY more to do than I can ever get done. And it’s ok to take a break anyway.

Tomorrow I have a doctor’s appointment to make sure I didn’t fuck up my adrenal system, to make sure my thyroid system isn’t the cause of the exhaustion, and to generally attempt to confirm that all of these symptoms of fatigue and brain fog are all due to a long term and powerful drive to always do and be more. Hopefully everything is fine. I don’t feel depressed, but I do feel fatigued to the point where I have very little interest in just about everything these days.

This is hard to talk about because I know you are worried about me. To be honest, I am a little too right now. No one in my life is a burden to me. My sessions and the people I interact with do not feed into what I’m writing about here. Those parts of my life I still very much enjoy and benefit from. The rest though, the bookkeeping, cleaning, laundry, endless emails, social media updates, book writing, business planning, organization, payroll…all those little things that never end and that I’m always feeling behind on…those are the things that I need a break from. I am getting there. The current plan, if everything is ok at the dr’s, is to complete training for our newest hire, bring on 1-2 more folks, train them, and then, once we’ve been here long enough that I don’t have to worry that we can pay our bills without my income, I will take a full month to spend on unstructured time to rest, recover, and find me again.

For now I will do my best to listen to my body, avoid the guilty brain motivations, and to rest. Thank you for being here with me. Thank you for listening to me human. Thank you for letting me figure it out on my own, and most of all, thank you for not telling me how to fix it. I am grateful for the compassionate listening here. Please feel welcome and encouraged to share with me what’s going on in your world as well. Connection through challenges helps me immensely. We are in this together.

Sending love to me and you!

-Intentionally Sam