Yesterday I went to Brighton to watch a friend run the marathon (we’ll call her Fiona.) The atmosphere was jovial and alive. People were cheering happily and music was blasting into the streets.
It should’ve been uplifting to be in such a positive environment… but it wasn’t. For me it was suffocating.
Behind my sunglasses tears were forming and as they streamed down my face I tried to pass them off as tears of pride for Fiona. My head was pounding and I felt dizzy.
The truth is, I was exhausted. Twelve days of ‘burning the candle’ at both ends had finally caught up with me. After a busy week, complete with a crushing workload, I travelled up north on Friday night for my best friend’s bridal fitting. After the fitting on Saturday, I went straight back to London to get up at 8am the next day and travel to Brighton.
Why would I do this to myself?
Well… I don’t deal with guilt very well, I never have. I can’t face letting people down and I like to please everyone, no matter inconvenient.
Maybe that’s cowardice, I’m not sure. Rather than face an unpleasant reaction I’d rather just keep everybody happy.
Once again my reluctance to deal with ‘guilt’ stems from a difficulty in handling many distressing emotions such as; fear and sadness.These emotions make me anxious and we all know how much I prefer to avoid that!
People with anxiety tend to struggle with guilt because it links into our belief that we’re ‘horrible people’ and that everyone secretly hates us. If we feel guilty then we’ve obviously done something wrong. In CBT terms, this is called ‘emotional reasoning.’ E.g. If we feel guilt then we must be at fault somehow and everyone will think so too. This is a distorted belief – (unless you’ve killed someone, in which case feel free to assume that you’re at fault!)
Here’s an example scenario of how my brain works:
Rational brain: Sally asked me to go out for drinks on Friday, as it’s her birthday. But I’m at Dan’s parents all day on Saturday. We promised to help paint the new house. I said yes to Sally initially, but maybe I should cancel?
Irrational brain: You can’t cancel. If you cancel now she’ll be really upset.
Rational brain: Maybe I could just go for an hour?
Irrational brain: What’s the point in that? If you go for an hour she’ll think you’re boring. You’ll never get invited out with her friends again.
Rational brain: Well maybe I can just explain everything to Sally and offer to take her out for drinks next week instead?
Irrational brain: You’re pathetic. You don’t even know her that well.. why would she want to do that? You’re going to get a reputation as someone who always cancels. Why can’t you just suck it up and go out properly? How do you ever expect to do well in life if you behave like this? Sally will hate you if you cancel now.
Result: I go to the drinks. Stay too late and am knackered the next day. Sally was so drunk that she can’t remember whether I was there or not. Dan is angry with me for being so tired on Saturday. I feel guilty and try to make it up to him by suggesting we go out on Sunday…. Even though I could’ve done with spending the day relaxing.
It’s not only the guilt that makes me anxious… it’s the idea that I might’ve lost an opportunity. For example, if someone is visiting London for an evening and asks whether I’m free for dinner, I always strive to meet them. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t seen them in 5 years or that we’re barely friends anyone… and It doesn’t matter how busy I am….. this person is only in London for one night, so I’d be crazy not to meet them!
This definitely links into my fear of making wrong decisions. I’m frightened that I’ll make the wrong choice in life and I’ll be miserable forever. Believe me… I know this sounds extreme, but it’s how my brain works!
In realistic terms, letting someone down.. particularly someone who is important to you, is never desirable. But it happens. Also, not every opportunity in life can be grasped, it’s impossible.
Trying to force myself do everything is unrealistic.. and frankly, bloody stupid.
Furthermore, tiredness is one of my key anxiety triggers. I know this now, it’s been proved time and time again. Yesterday’s incident was a wake-up call. I need to alter things before I push myself any further and risk a relapse.
How will I do this? Well to be honest, the whole thing is my fault. I make my own decisions at the end of the day.
- I need to start being more organised, rather than saying yes to everything (only to realise later that I have too much planned.) Stricter diary management is required… no matter how geeky that is. I have a diary for work commitments, so why not for my social life??
- I need to take more responsibility and face the guilt rather than avoid it. Like fear, guilt is a normal human reaction and is necessary sometimes…. And like fear, it fades.
- Schedule one evening a week completely for myself. This even means ignoring my boyfriend (I’ll tell him in advance!) I need one evening to just unwind, have a bath, read or do something for myself. This might sound selfish, but it’ll revitalise me for the rest of the week which means that I can devote more energy to other things and people.
So.. in nutshell, here’s what I should’ve done in regards to last weekend.
Fiona… I’m really sorry but I won’t be able to come to Brighton on Sunday. I know that I said I would, but I need to cancel. My best friend is having her bridal fitting this weekend in Bolton and I can’t miss that. She’s been in my life forever and I don’t want to miss such a special moment in her life.. because I love her. I’m sorry to disappoint you and I hope you’ll understand. I’ll take you out for a drink next week to celebrate.
Hindsight is a fine thing and I’m hoping to learn from it.
To end, here’s an amusing story;
Last Friday I was told that Alexa Chung was in the office. Now… I’ve been OBSESSED with ‘the Chung’ since I was 18, (yes yes I know, not everyone likes her. But it’s my thing, I love her… so let it go.) I decided to do a lap of the entire office to try and spot her, whilst pretending that I was looking for a meeting room. It was all going rather well until I collided head first into a colleague. I mean literally collided… she stood on my foot with stiletto heel (I was wearing pumps… so yeah, ouch) and I involuntarily grabbed her jacket to steady myself. I then shouted “F**K!” right in her face (again, involuntary) and stumbled past.
I would like to say that nobody noticed and I could go back to my desk pretending that nothing happened…. But alas, everybody saw… and let’s just say that it’ll be a while before I can show my face in that part of the building again!!
Make time for yourself people…. I promise to do the same.