“There’s nothing wrong with you, Liz,” she said.
For 11 years now, I’ve begged therapists to help me figure out what is wrong with me. Ever since my adolescent depression caused me to stop being That Kid Who Did and Was Wildly Successful at Practically Everything, I started being disappointing, and “difficult”, and I wondered what the hell was suddenly wrong with me that I was miserable and unable to complete things that used to be so easy?
Why am I not yet back to being that overachiever after all this therapy and all these medications and all this meditation and all this self-help crap and all of this “recovery”? Why am I still crippled with anxiety and guilt to the point that I barely accomplish anything on a day-to-day basis? Why do I keep trying to change my lifestyle only to wildly go flying back off the rails when my mind inevitably says, “Oh, fuck this.”? WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME?!
Laureen, my current therapist, is the first person in the entire time I’ve been struggling with this to ever look at me, smile, and say, “There is nothing wrong with you.”
She said this on our second meeting together after she’d been listening to my husband discuss the constant roller coaster of insanity I’d kept us on for the year before when he’d been seeing her by himself. I scoffed and thought, “Well, she doesn’t know me yet; she’ll figure it out soon enough.”
But, months later, she still continues with this MO – that there’s nothing wrong with me at all.
And it’s been more effective in changing my life than any other therapy I’ve ever experienced.
I’ve tried for 17 years now to change myself. Constantly. I’m constantly convinced that if I start making myself do some other radical change every single day, I’m going to be “better.” I’ve tried countless diets (I’ve lost and gained the same 30 lbs roughly 12 times now…totally healthy, right?); I’ve decided I’m going to abstain from countless indulgences; I’ve tried putting myself on schedules and/or trying to adhere to routines; I’ve tried saying that I’m going to try to do the same thing every day/week as a means to make myself better. And then I can’t. And I’m submerged in this guilt and feeling of defeat: What is wrong with me that I can’t adhere to a schedule “like everyone else”? Why can’t I say, “I’m gonna work out/do yoga/practice one of my musical instruments/clean house/stay at 1,500 calories every day!” and stick to it? Why can’t I decide to abstain from something like chocolate or social media or something harmless and actually stick with it? Why do I always try to kick these habits and then fly wildly off track and overindulge over and over? What is WRONG with me?
And only recently have I dared to think, “Nothing. There’s nothing wrong with me.”
I’m just different than what I was raised to believe I needed to be. I can’t clean the house a little each day or once a week or on some sort of schedule if I set it out, but it always gets done; it’s never been filthy or in total disarray. I can’t stay on a regimented diet, but when I stopped thinking about it a few years ago, I lost a ton of weight and was at my smallest, most energized, and healthiest; I didn’t have any desire to put a lot of crap into my system. I can’t abstain from things I really love because, inherently, I don’t believe in it; it’s like Erma Bombeck said, “Seize the day. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.” And it isn’t reverse psychology; if you were to tell me I could never ever drink root beer or shoot/smoke heroin or listen to Limp Biskit for the rest of my life, there would never be a moment where that whole “You want what you can’t have” crap would come into play. Not ever. But when I try to deny that there are just things I love to do or indulge in every so often, I end up derailing and overindulging and just feeling awful and overcorrect and the whole cycle goes on and on forever. It’s bullshit and I’m tired of it.
When I listen to what my body and mind want, I am productive and I am healthy and I feel accomplished even when it doesn’t at all match up with what I’ve always believed was the best way to achieve things.
I realized that, when I was younger, I was constantly doing. I had literally 2 extracurriculars every day after school except Fridays; I practiced piano everysingleday; I always did something for Girl Scouts or church or theater or piano competitions, etc. on the weekends – and, because my schedule was completely full, I never had a chance to just be. I don’t fault my parents because they did everything they could to give us every single opportunity imaginable, but I now wonder how much of that I even wanted to be doing, and I remember doing a lot of things that I loathed just because it was expected of me – church/rec-league basketball comes to mind; I was more comfortable posing nude for strangers at NCSA than playing basketball in front of people I knew during those tormented seasons.
I think, at some point my spirit realized that constantly doing things wasn’t enough, and I got exhausted denying what I really wanted to do, which was just be. For example, I got tired of pretending I could tolerate Sunday school/youth group where they told us to hate gay people and slut-shame and reject “sinners”, and I wasn’t heard or respected when I expressed my desire to stop for years. Because of this, I spent a lot of time afterward being really, really angry at organized religion instead of just getting away from it. Even now, I’m usually happier spending my spiritual time meditating alone by sitting quietly or walking outdoors or singing or saging or doing yoga, etc.
I went to college because I was “supposed to” and it caused me to crash and burn over and over again for 7 solid years of undergrad including summers. The whole time I wasn’t living up to the accomplishments or habits of my peers (the driven, consistent, intellectual types), I loathed myself for not being as disciplined or regimented. When I was doing things my parents disapproved of (having “weird” friends, exploring different spiritual beliefs, dating people who didn’t fit their ideals, not wanting to wear entire outfits in the comfort of my home, etc.) I lived in constant shame and guilt and found myself hiding out from their judgment, which meant doing the things my heart felt drawn to in secret. This sort of continues with my husband, although to a lesser degree. For example, he hates that I smoke occasionally when I go out – about 2 cigarettes every 2 months- and I finally told him to get over it because I was tired of lying about it when I don’t think it’s a big deal. At all. The same goes for my graffiti projects or having unconventional friends or needing to go on road trips to stay with friends every other month. And even to the day-to-day difference in habits – him being regimented and thriving on routine whereas I am completely the opposite – has been a strain on us as cohabitants. I’ve punished myself for years because I just – as they said in the underrated movie “Life – “can’t get right.”
And I’ve finally decided to embrace this completely novel idea that that lifestyle just isn’t right for me. It doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked for a really, really long time. I’m slamming myself into a round hole when I am a square peg, and it’s just breaking me down and making me crazy.
When I am true to myself, I am capable of doing genuinely great things. I taught at a community college and was able to show up to every class, on time, and give 100% of myself every time because I really, really enjoyed it. (Meanwhile, when I’m doing work where I’m not engaged or feeling like I’m valued, it’s a waste of everyone’s time and money because I’m just going to be mentally clocked out.) When my mind is in the mode to create something, I create really great things, but it can’t happen on any sort of regimented schedule. I get obsessive about things for a very short amount of time and am meticulous about learning it thoroughly or finishing it to the most minor detail until I, much like Jay-Z, am ready to move on to the next one. I clean my house from top to bottom when the whim strikes me, and it always does. I don’t have a problem with these things, even though other people immediately around me have always seemed to. When I allow myself to listen to myself, I take care of myself and nurture my home without overdoing it on any front and feeling like I have to constantly apologize for falling short.
I’m really, really tired of constantly apologizing for myself. And I think I’m just effing done with it. I think, if I start listening to what I actually want, regardless of what literally anybody else has to say about it, I’m going to find myself finding balance and accomplishing things I’m proud of. That’s how it has always worked for me. I need to stop denying that just because anybody else has a problem with it.
I know. It all sounds so cliche, but I have been raised in a culture and with people whose lifestyle is so dissimilar, I’ve always been taught to believe that, because I can’t thrive in that sort of daily life, that there’s something wrong with me.
And it took 6 therapists, 1 AA sponsor, two trips to two separate mental hospitals, and talking my brains out in therapy and prayer for an 11 year period for anybody, ANYBODY to tell me, “There’s nothing wrong with you.”
Fuck what anybody else has to say about it; I’m finally giving myself permission to believe that she’s right.