“I wish I could shower without my thoughts,” I said to Sean absentmindedly as I towel dried my hair. I’d been doing battle with people who haven’t listened, replaying conversations that are already inked and smudged beyond repair. He looked at me and took a deep breath, I felt my shoulders go up in defensive anticipation and then back down.
“Me too,” he said and smiled gently. “Hard to turn it all off sometimes.”
It felt pretty good to not be judged, but my mind immediately set itself back to judging—flitting from why I chirp “yup” during conference calls to the clothes hanging in the closet, to the roller coaster of 40something skin (Is it a break out? Is it flaking dry skin? Is it both? Why do I itch everywhere?) to how I haven’t been writing and when I do write it drops silently into the abyss. I tried resetting my shoulders again.
It’s maddening to me that I can walk down the street with confidence, a few instances notwithstanding, and feel unbothered by appearance or doubt. Yet when I’m at home I thrash against quicksand like doubt and judgement. The face I might have cracked a smile at in a storefront reflection is now haggard, the idea I had for a project is full of holes that I tear wider with contempt. The doubt is caricature-like in its relentlessness.
The thing about doubt for me is that it doesn’t matter how tightly scheduled my day is, I fit it in. It also comes upon in me ways that are unpredictable-good night’s sleep, bad night’s sleep, easy day, hard day. The other day I said something about it online and Bette, a woman who I’ve been friends with online almost as long as I’ve been a mom said, “You’re getting better at this, right?”
I want to say yes. I want to say that I hit 40 and let it all go, or that I realized it was a waste of time, which I have, but it’s still here. I am still here. Ever questing for est—
You name it, alone with my thoughts I tend to think that I don’t measure up. I look at the things other people do, see their 13.1 or 26.2 stickers. I have no desire to run that far, I just don’t. That doesn’t stop me from thinking that I am somehow failing by not training for a half marathon. Same goes for seasonal wreaths and centerpieces. I don’t want them, but not creating them or buying them is something I curse myself for.
Seeing all this written out, imagining hearing it from someone else, I can easily rally a “you shouldn’t feel that way and here are 15 reasons why…” for them, not for me. Laying this out here with the cursor blinking at me to write more is excruciating. How much more can I tell? How bare can I lay the doubt and self-ridicule? I could choose not to do this and have the stories I leave be free of this. I could erase this part of my voice and deny that I wavered or faltered. As much as I want to be free of these echoes, I want my daughters to know that it’s ok to worry. We aren’t broken.
I promised myself I’d do this. I prefer the days when my joy at being alive trumps everything else, when each challenge that pops up is met with a a reflex of I can do this. Because I can, I do know that beneath my shallow lamenting that I am not as effective as so and so at something I am remarkable. We all are, but when held against the remarkableness of others we are destined to fall short.
As I went about this emotional, mind stammering I found something from Gretchen Rubin. It was a tweet that came up in my feed at just the right moment, erasing for a moment the pursuit of est.
I’ve been writing these posts about self-doubt and body image for years. I’m tired of it. I’d like to think that it’s possible to get to a point where certain things aren’t a part of us, that we can conquer vices. Maybe if I embrace what Gretchen writes, aim for one or the other depending on the day, I can hold on a bit longer to the days when my reflection, my shadow, and the sound of my own voice are things that I cherish.
Yesterday Sean helped me get out of my own head by shooing me out of the house for a walk. Just agreeing to do it felt like climbing a mountain, but I did it. I was about 50 steps from the house when I realized that it was all I needed, a perfect reset. Now if I can just hold on to that and the perspective that can be found from stepping out of the self-critiquing rut, I’ll be just fine.