Quit the self-blame

I was so gutted by the sinking realisation that it came up in my dreams, gave me a disturbed night and had me waking with hot tears running down my face, sobbing outloud with a gulp as I surfaced. It was the middle of the week and was looking increasingly likely that I would have to drop out of something “important” that I had planned at the weekend; and it was just hanging there, like a lead weight over an already challenging week.

Quite a few weeks ago, we booked for us both (my husband and I) to go to a yin yoga workshop this weekend. This might not seem like such a big deal but to me it really is. To me, who does yoga nigh on every day from home…but at my own pace, able to stop and start when I want to…the thought of two hours shut into a room with other people who (in my mind’s eye) know what they are doing and can keep going without bizarre waves of chronic exhaustion or pain occurring, even at a gentle pace, is quite terrifying but I was up for it all the same. Having had such a good few months; having been able to increase my home practice and start weekly one-on-ones that added new movements into my routine, I had felt encouraged that I could really do this…even though my yoga is never longer than about 30 minutes on a good day; and part of me was just longing to get out and be amongst other people, also a good sign. My husband’s sheer enthusiasm for me to go with him to this monthly session was contagious and I was thrilled that he wanted me there on his turf; thrilled that I really thought I could do it. Based on how good I have been feeling lately, the worst thing that could happen was that I may have to take it slow or sit out a few minutes of poses during the two hours duration but I could cope with that, couldn’t I?

But now, in a week when I’ve felt utterly crashed-out exhausted and in a lot of pain for days (and have hardly managed to do my own yoga…which is rare) I was beginning to have my serious doubts. The emotional vulnerability that sweeps in when I’m like this; that makes me more introverted than ever and so much less hardy in the face of assumed criticism, makes me recoil more than ever at the thought of so publicly floundering if I have to just lie there on a mat until the session is over. When I’m like this, I withdraw even in the bosom of my own family; immersing myself in quiet pastimes until the wheel inevitably turns again…but not this time; I’m on a timetable and I have to be better by Saturday.

“Give it until Friday to decide” I told myself, or even “leave it until the very last minute and just be philosophical about the price of the ticket if you don’t manage to go…” But having just heard there’s now a waiting list for the session, the pressure is on and I no longer feel I should risk taking anybody’s place if there’s a chance I won’t go. If forced to decided now, based on how I feel today, the answer has to be “no, I can’t…” and that throws me into such a downward cascade of feelings. As anyone who knows what it is like to have to frequently give up plans because the body doesn’t play ball with them will be familair with…

The first, as I’ve said, is crashing disappointment…for myself, for my husband because of me. A longing “just to be normal”, to be spontaneous, to say “yes” to doing ordinary things is so overwhelming now and these setbacks in my body have never felt more abrasive, invasive, cruel. And yes there’s that niggling little voice that makes me imagine there is an impatience or frustration with me that my husband certainly doesn’t feel (he is more concerned that he pushed me too hard to do something I wasn’t ready for…) but my mind likes to make it up anyway. Surely (it tries to tell me) he must wish sometimes that I wasn’t so feeble, so unreliable when it comes to doing things. Its always so much harder to allow myself to believe he is really the stalwart supporter that I know, in my heart, that he is and that he has none of these thoughts; these are just me, digging.

Next on the block is a feeling of self-accusation that sounds like my mother’s voice when I was a pre-schooler: “Did you do this?” said with finger wagging. Had I, at some level, manufactured this to “get out of” a situation that pushed me out of my comfort zone; had I made it happen? Which then quickly joins forces with the chorus of voices I sometimes imagine being all around me, made up of all the go-getter people I know: “Well, if you are so good at manifesting, how come you manifested this? Why aren’t you better yet? All those so-called spiritual concepts, all that grand philosophising about life and yet you still have this going on. If you are still so unwell, you must be having “wrong” thoughts, must be courting this illness with negative thinking or focusing on material symptoms when you need to be more spiritual than you know how; don’t you know focusing on the body is so last year? Other people get over cancer and you have this pathetic mystery illness that doesn’t even have a diagnosis. Can’t even manage a yoga class…you’re such a failure!”

The next is a big one, the sinking admission (in the cold scrutiny of the moment) that this is the reason why I don’t book or plan many things, don’t make arrangements with friends, don’t even tend to have those kind of friends with whom I can “do” things. All because I have had to shrink my life down to a size of a pea, so I can’t disappoint or mess anyone else, or myself, around very much; for the very reasons so amply demonstrated by this situation. Which means I have a life in which I do very little except spend time on my own or with a close-knit family core, though they get to see other people in their daily lives and I don’t; because that is by far the “safest” option compared to setting up a constant stream of let-downs, explanations and physical benchmarks that I can’t always achieve. Which leads into my next downward spiral as I realise how sad and lonely I sometimes feel, how there’s occasionally a sense of missing out on life, of watching other people live theirs and me just a bystander; of having cryogenically preserved only the very tiniest, most predictable, frozen core of a life without any of the spontaneous fleshiness that makes it rich and colourful in an active way. Suddenly my rich-sensory inner-focused life of writing, thinking and art (which I normally love with a vengeance) feels compromised and small compared to what I could have if I was able to “do” more. That dissatisfaction, let out of its box, feels like it is suddenly come back to eat me and is another one of the reasons I avoid stepping over my own boundaries to where I’m suddenly dissatisfied by what I find I cannot do, predict or take for granted about my body like other people. When I keep my focus on my inner world, I keep those dissatisfactions at bay; but when I open that box…

And if I don’t set myself goals I don’t set myself up for a crash…like this one, where not only my hopes are dashed but my awful-feeling week is suddenly noticeable whereas, normally, I’m pretty circumspect about these flare-ups, letting them pass without resistance as “just one of those weeks” where I have to take things gently until they pass. As I’ve learned, what you resist persists and when you want something to be gone with every ounce of your being, to a particular schedule, they only come back even stronger…as I’m rediscovering. Now, with a deadline to feel better by, the malignant feeling at its core (one I have otherwise learned to avoiding adding fuel to but, this week, it is particularly hungry) is that I have “failed” in some way…I am “sick”…and there are now excuses and apologies to be made, which take the kind of words that I normally avoid using in my vocabulary, all of which have their focus on “wrongness” and “malfunction” (“I’m sorry, I have to cancel my booking at short notice because…”), which makes me feel a whole lot worse. Because, as I learned a long time ago, those words give solid form to what can otherwise be allowed to remain much more fleeting and transient, especially when you have carefully orchestrated your life to spend time with those who require no explanations…

Down and down it goes, reinforcing why I don’t try to do things like this very often, why I settle for my own small, non-communal activities behind closed doors on my own adaptable terms where there are no expectations or benchmarks to achieve. The irony is (as I already know deep down), if I wasn’t feeling so lousy in my body, I wouldn’t be feeling so darned tragic about not being able to do this one simple thing; I could probably even laugh about it, just a little…………….

_______

It was then that I realised that this thing I thought I had, long-ago, achieved like I was the grand master of this very thing – a state of total SELF-LOVE and ACCEPTANCE – was a smokescreen for a more pervasive layer of self-judgement that was still lurking in there. I thought I had this thing off to a fine art yet I could now see how I was still holding it in; within the very depths of my being like the Loch Ness Monster beneath the pristine waterline. One rocky day in my “boat” and it was still waiting there to gobble me up.

catherine-mcmahon-10118.jpgThe reason it remained so hidden was that I wasn’t testing myself enough, in my well-balanced life, for it to surface from the depths. Here, at last, was a wobble in my track record for it was now (just when I most needed it) that the pure unconditional self-love and acceptance was so apparently absent. Where was its tender embrace, its pearl-wisdom that told me none of this mattered nor would anyone who mattered mind any of this; that there would be other yoga, other times for doing things; that what really mattered now was that I didn’t make myself all brittle with self-condemnation so that I could get back on my feet…? But then just when I thought it wasn’t there, it actually was. It told me how important it was that I remained soft and outwardly folding like a flowering bloom, not an early opening bud bitten by frost, so that my body could trust that it had my absolute support in its recovery. It brought the wisdom that knew that I should banish any tones that sounded remotely like that of a disappointed parent and hear only the one that said “well done for everything you are managing to do in each moment”, regardless.

The lesson was timely. It was important. It was, perhaps, what this whole thing was about in the baby steps journey of recovery. Perhaps next time I will get to that yoga without hitch but, before I could do that, I needed this preamble to soften my responses ready for the outside world into which I am venturing, one toe at a time. It’s a world where not everyone will always understand the excuses I give; so, perhaps I learn first how to excuse myself without apology and with the unwavering knowledge in my heart that I had the best of intentions and their response (if they even have one) is their response, nothing to do with me. Once the body knows I won’t bail on it; won’t put myself down or feel small, pathetic or ashamed and – just as importantly – won’t force it to do anything that doesn’t feel right if it comes to that, then perhaps it will relax more when these opportunities come along. When shame and self-judgement stop being the default response in any circumstance (not just the easy ones) I will be ready to put myself up for more, to take risks and (to the best of my ability) make more commitments.

The feeling of it is like an embrace…of everything you have going on; like a pair of arms making a complete circle around the Self making you complete at a whole other level. Once mastered, this is the kind of wholeness that preempts the kind of total recovery I always imagine achieving; one that is not about a complete absence of symptoms but which is all about a holistic response to the inevitable vagarities of life. Just getting here feels like a graduation of sorts; a small triumph that is invisible as measured by the physical “reality” that tells me there are still many things that I am not able to do and days when I feel just awful; but which is made tangible by the measure of how I unconditionally feel about myself, and the surprise gifts I am prepared to extract from those circumstances, regardless.

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2 thoughts on “Quit the self-blame

  1. Thank you for writing this. I can so relate to all of it! It is so much easier to see from reading someone else’s “story” that it’s okay to say no. If I were the yoga teacher and someone emailed me saying they unfortunately wouldn’t be able to make the class this time (which happens!) it would be all good, no questions asked. It’s your right to be there and your right to not be there. And it will be a nice surprise for the next person on the waitlist. However in your position I would dread emailing and canceling, and how I would have to explain myself. No explanations needed is one of my lessons too. I now see that I deserve to be my own bodyguard of sorts, making myself the priority. You have come a long way and you deserve all the compassionate love and care and unapologetic boundary setting that you need.
    I have many moments of feeling like a failure..every time I have a crash which is still quite often (in fact everytime I think I’m getting better and go do something!) But I guess being 2.5 years into it this is just my reality right now. And yes it makes it hard being a mystery illness label rather than something that people have more understanding of. But I guess this is part of the challenge, to not care what they think. To stop wondering what they might think. To know I am worth the strong boundaries. Self-love, self-love, especially when I feel at my lowest. I am working on it! Thanks again for sharing your relatable journey.

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    1. Its so good to hear from you Lori and I’m so glad you got something from this. You’re right, cancelling the yoga was by the far the worst part, a tangible obstacle to wellbeing as it required the use of language to label what I otherwise avoid making “solid” when I don’t set challenges that turn out to be beyond where I’m at…leading to “excuse making” which is horrible. Its made me think into how powerful it is when we learn to live by what we know we can do and shine at, not this compulsion to over reach thus set ourselves up for what we percieve as failure if we dont manage to do it. I know its been one of the most self-loving things I’ve done for myself to celebrate what I can do, not set trip wires made up of what I can’t. When we consciously set life up as a success zone, the celebration of what we are coping with feeds into the recovery process in a way that is exponential…or, at least doing this as much as we can is a big step towards avoiding what feel like crashes (and then, maybe, relabelling those as time out or opportunities for increased self-care). Having “recovered” from the downward spiral of the decision (and the announcing of the decision) to scrub the weekend, Im now feeling so much better having a really gentle day “excelling” at sitting in my garden reading a good book 🙂 Take good care my friend and speak soon x

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