Friday, October 22, 2010

The Futility of Denial

In my attempt to sort myself out, I have tried a lot of options.  First up was denial.  A complete inability to really see the main issues led me to flit about throwing my energy everywhere in an attempt to fix something I wasn't even sure was wrong.

Was it my work?  My staff have been doing an outstanding job of getting things running smoother and better at my studio, and we have only hit the occasional bumps as people will inevitably do.  If it wasn't work, was it my marriage?  My husband is amazing and an incredibly patient and loving human being.  It couldn't be him.  Was it where I live?  I am blessed to live in a really nice house out in the country.  It's quite comfortable and nicer than anything I thought I'd live in a this point in my life, to be honest.  Probably not that.  Was it my debt?  I have taken on a lot of loans to open my own business and expand it, and going further back, I still have student loans.  I have been keeping up with them, but it has certainly been a source of stress. 

I concluded that it must be none of these things at first.  My business for all intents and purposes had been flourishing, especially in the context of this economy and the fact that it is only in its third year.  My marriage was a cozy friendship, a place of safety, and while starting to get a bit boring, overall was not causing harm or strife.  The debt was being handled.  To my mind, how could anything that was being handled and not causing obvious problems be a problem?

So, I felt uneasy and anxious.  I got used to the business being what it is, and felt that I must need to do MORE to make it even better.  If I couldn't get it to improve or expand or make more money or be more popular quickly, then I was probably failing at business ownership and leading.  That must be why I was upset with work - my lack of making it better was making me feel bad!  I would come up with lists of better ways to do business, more places to advertise and spend money, more internet projects, more drawing and painting ideas, more gallery shows, more workshop ideas, and scores of things I had to do to feel that I was "getting somewhere."  It was making me frazzled, but I didn't know it.  I thought I felt anxious because I wasn't getting everything done fast enough or good enough.  It didn't occur to me yet that it was possible that making up so many things to do could actually be causing the stress.

At home, I basically worked.  I felt like I needed to work harder and get more done to prove to my husband and my family and my friends that I was accomplishing something big in life.  That way, I could be worth their love and attention.  The sad part was that I didn't realize I was making myself so busy and crazy that I didn't ever really see them anymore.  And when I did, my mind was working so hard on everything I still needed to do or could plan or add on to my list of accomplishments that I was basically checked out at every conversation. 

I would come home, say hi to my husband, grab some food and head to my computer to work some more.  In the mornings, I would get up and work until I had to go to work.  It was the same every day for weeks, months, a couple of years.  It was slow at first, but I eventually latched onto the idea that this is what new business owners have to do.  We have to work all the time or our businesses won't be successful.  Everyone I talked to confirmed this - articles in papers and online, my friends letting me know that they understood that I had to work so much to get things going and keep them going, my husband telling me that he knew that we wouldn't get to spend a lot of time together because I had to work.  Eventually, though, this started to undo me.

Why did I have to work all the time?  What if I wanted a day to decompress?  I felt so incredibly guilty for taking time off that I would actually just obsess about what I wasn't doing and what a bad business owner and boss I was to take a day or few hours off.  I couldn't relax at all in the morning because I was supposed to do emails or client drawings.  Or update the website, or link new ones to my own.  Or start my own drawings and paintings to go in my gallery.  Or promote some new show or idea, or meet new artists, or, or, or. . . 

This started to really suck.  I would hear myself talking about work all the time, and hated it.  I would see myself coming home and ignoring my husband or getting upset about watching a TV show with him because in my head, I was supposed to be "accomplishing something" with my time.  I would want time off, and would take it, but either work anyway or get into a tizzy being upset about how I wasn't working.  This resulted in more angst and guilt, and a need for more time off, because I really did need to rest.  But I would take it again and not actually recuperate, which would lead to me feeling like a horrible person and going back to work even more burnt out than I was before I took the day off.

Worrying about debt and how to pay it off and how much I still owe back for my business investments was really feeding my pattern.  I would feel like even if I didn't actually make a lot of money, at least nobody could blame me for that if I was constantly busy and trying to make money.

My commute was starting to get me down as well.  Not only was I working all the time, I was driving about an hour and fifteen minutes per day just to get to work and back.  It was (and is) expensive.  It exacerbates my husband's and my situation of lack of time together since we work different shifts already. 

I look back on this pattern (which I am still in the process of separating myself from), and feel sympathy for everyone in my life who has been gracious enough to deal with my frazzled muppet self.  I can see now that persisting in believing that I have to be Super Woman, and do it all is actually resulting in my doing less.  Everyone else has to be a clean up crew and finish what I start so that it doesn't fall apart.  I may be instrumental in others falling apart and becoming overwhelmed, thinking that they have to pick up all my loose ends.  It's humbling to know that the people I share my life with have been doing that for me out of love and kindness, and that they did it even before I asked for their help.

As I started to realize that I actually was in the middle of a pretty big mess and stopped ignoring it, I found other ways to be in denial.   I would pick one aspect of my life (for me it usually bounces between work and home), and blame all of life's difficulties on that one subject.  Life getting me down?  Must be my work life.  Of course it is because there was a minor difference of opinion between two of us, and now the whole thing is off kilter.  You know what?  I'll bet that's what's making my home life annoying, too.  Maybe I just need to come up with a whole new work strategy and that will fix it all.

Or, I would decide it was my relationship that was causing all of the trouble.  It must be because we aren't hanging out as much anymore that I am so upset.  It's all his fault.  If he could be as productive as I am, of course we'd get along better and then work would get better too. 

This was obviously flawed logic and totally ridiculous.  But it felt easier to me to blame one person or one aspect of work for all of my problems than it was to see that I actually have a LOT of problems all over the place.  It was easier to blame outside circumstances than to blame myself for creating these situations.  And ultimately, it made me feel like I wasn't responsible for any of it, which was supposed to feel OK but still had me in a panic.  What the hell could I do to fix anything if all of it wasn't my fault?  It took me a couple of years to realize that I was in the cycle of moving blame around just long enough to find some small relief before needing to move it again in order to keep up the denial.

So here I am, suddenly faced with all of my "problems."  I've been running from them so long that I'm not even sure what all of them are anymore.  They are not at all what I thought they were.  Some are pretty big, lots are small.  The sources of trouble all lie within myself, which is probably why I fought so hard to deny them in the first place.  I guess we all do that.  The good news is that once we are able to see with a little bit of clarity even one thing, the rest automatically feels a lot easier to face.

I hope that I will get better at recognizing denial in myself and learning to work with it instead of moving it from one subject to another.  It's easy to see others avoiding their life situations, but somehow very difficult to see it in ourselves.  I suspect that the antidote is learning to be present instead of wandering off in thought or making up a story about why everything is the way it is.  My stories all pointed away from myself, and so I couldn't see the main culprit.  What will happen if I learn to write my life story from a center of myself?  Not just as the subject who goes about life with lots of things happening to me, but as a person who makes things happen?  I used to think this was self-centered and therefore bad.  But self-centered is an accurate label for it, and it's only my judgment that this is a bad thing to do that makes me avoid it.  Besides, we make things happen all the time, and are usually quite proud of it.  It's only the things we aren't proud of that we try to pin on something or someone else.

Perhaps the antidote to denial is to be a little more self-centered in this observant way.  To realize that if my story stops saying, "I did this" when I start to feel bad and starts to look for an outside reason that things feel bad, I am still responsible for what I say and do and plot and plan.  It probably isn't some giant monster out there that I need to battle.  It's the monsters within myself that I need to battle.  I will do my best to stay with that attitude until it becomes a habit.

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