Autumn begins on September 22 this year. That means there are 50 days left of summer. 50! A nice, neat, even number.*
I often write about my love for autumn and all things back-to-school. I love the brisk coolness, cinnamon apples, knee socks and sweaters, shiny school supplies, and the freshness of the world getting back to order after the slow days of summer sloth. I always feel like September is the true “new year holiday” and giddily sip sip sip away at my hot, creamy coffee while scribbling down some new personal goals.
It just occurred to me that autumn is exciting simply because the circumstances around me are changing, all on its own volition, and outside of my control (or input). You might say that the environment is inspiring for me…but you could also say that I falsely project that novelty and adventure onto myself. I don’t have to do anything and yet suck in the sense of newness from around me.
On the flip side, if I think August is so slow, so hot, so dull, plodding along at the end of summer vacation, all blunted and uninteresting…well, it is probably because of ME.
I’m blunted and uninteresting.
After I finished my Tinkerbell 10k, I fell back into a slump. I’ve been talking to my therapist about feeling lost, weak, and exhausted by my own negativity. I blame the weather and then tell him that no, it is me: blunted, uninteresting. He always repeats the same words of reassurance and insight. In his view…
My main issue is that I do not protect myself or prepare for the onslaught of self criticism. I have negative thoughts about situations that have become internalized into a false narrative about myself. Example: This situation makes me feel upset? “It must be my fault to be upset. I am wrong to be upset when it is my fault. I am stupid.” He suggests this self-hate stems from a primal fear of rejection; I took in the message that I would always be safe as long as I fulfilled external obligations and expectations. I would be a size 0 and have my fancy career and be the best daughter/wife/mother and my parents would NEVER EVER feel sad or disappointed and no one would ever, ever be cruel to me (or my family). These are false and impossible goals of course: you can NEVER fulfill external obligations perfectly and there can NEVER be a promise that everyone bumping into you in life will be on some placid level of eternal zen.
Wow, everything is supposed to be awesome 100% of the time? And “awesome” is totally dependent on the emotional harmony of the environment (including total strangers, assholes, etc)? The impossibility of the scenario never occurred to me. The fact that this perfection was never achieved was just warped into a constant hum of “failure.” I failed to make everyone happy. I failed the test. I have no self worth. So for all related goals, I eventually procrastinate and give up. Why try at anything without a guarantee of success? I’d fail like I always do, like I have fundamentally done forever. This cyclical self defeatism just reminds me, over and over, that I’m worthless, lost, confused, and incapable.
But… I’m not lost. I’m not confused. I know what I want and that I’m capable. The thing is, I am scared.
My challenge now is to remove what sabotages me.
If my personal goals are tests, they do not “test” my self worth (I AM worthy). My goals just mark how far I can overcome self-sabotaging fears.
And whenever I start a new project, I will not ask “will I succeed?” or “Am I good enough?” I will only ask “Is this a meaningful experience for me?”
Dear Dr. P,
The next 50 days will cover a seasonal period that I’ve always associated with failure. The slow, dull heat and long days of boredom only reminded me of all of the things I couldn’t accomplish over the summer vacation and all of the ways that I, myself, could not fill those days meaningfully. I would like to change this negative and self-defeating mindset. I know that I can.
In concrete and present terms, this period will be stressful because it marks our son’s transition to a new therapy program and a radically new everyday life for all of us involved. But it also affords me 2 hours a day in the mid-afternoon to work on myself. I am interested in seeing how far I can overcome my self-sabotaging habits.
Here are a few projects I’d like to tackle. It is irrelevant if I am “good” or “bad” at them. I would like to pursue them simply because they are meaningful and enjoyable to me.
- This month I want to reread my new phenomenology book because this philosophical foundation is interesting to me. Eventually I am going to return to my dissertation. Reminder: neither this book nor my dissertation is a test of my own intellectual capability. If anything, my ability to get through the book and start considering my dissertation again is a testament to my ability to recognize and replace self-criticism.
- In the last days of summer, I am going to correct my eating habits and maintain my TDEE of 1200. I will eliminate my afternoon stress-boredom-snack habit by replacing it with decaf coffee/tea. I would like to fit into my new green dress to celebrate the Autumn season. It is fun to meal plan and get healthier, so why not?
- In my downtime, I’d like to begin a short story exercise. I’ve gone back to my endless, mindless time on the internet. Why not write a few sentences here and there instead?
Please help me recognize self-defeating patterns of thought that emerge whenever I feel afraid. I know I am capable of using these late summer days in a way that would improve my well being. I just need your help in redirecting my patterns of self-critical thinking.
*Well, it was 50 days when I started this post.