Reaching psychological retirement
How a hole in my stomach is making me rethink my worth
I have a stomach ulcer. I know it because I’ve had one before. I recognise the symptoms. You see, seven years ago, I had a very unhealthy relationship with myself. I was commuting to work for over three hours every day, working too much and living on petrol station food. I was tired, too tired to exercise. So tired that I was worried about falling asleep at the wheel, so I kept an emergency can of Red Bull in my glove compartment for those early morning moments when I would feel myself slowly drifting off. But that was a stupid idea, right? Because by the time it happened, it would be too late for the caffeine to kick in. So cut to a couple of months later and we have a version of Annie starting her day with a healthy dose of Red Bull to ‘prevent’ falling asleep at the wheel, therefore reducing any risk of accident and heroically saving countless animals who may have ended up as roadkill otherwise. You can see how all this led to a stomach ulcer right? Well I didn’t. Red Bull as breakfast and I didn’t see it coming.
By that point, I was looking to alleviate at least some of the muscular, digestive, emotional and all-around pain that had become my daily friend. I walked into a herbal supplement shop looking for the magic pill that would make me feel like a human again. I explained my routine to the shop attendant, after which she looked at me intently and simply stated: “You don’t like yourself much do you?” And that my merry friend, hit me like a ton of bricks in the face. Shame and embarrassment at what previously seemed like a typical young professional’s ambitious career path (but now seemed more like a series of fairly pathetic life choices based on general clueless-ness) riddled my body and I had to step outside. I was just, in that instant, suddenly comprehending every kind of extremes I had pushed my body to. I made some pretty drastic changes after that. I moved to a new city to be closer to work and started cycling to get there. Took up rowing. Made friends. Left work on time. To go rowing. Great success story. Except it’s not, because obviously, I’ve done it again. It may have taken seven years, but make no mistakes, I gradually pushed myself too far again and I am now back in that Red Bull filled hell. So what is it that makes me go from a zen and balanced human being to a psychotic wreck fueled by caffeine and beige food (yes, that’s a food group, albeit not one on the recommended food guide)? Well, that herbal voodoo lady was right from the start. I just don’t like myself very much you see.
Don’t get me wrong, I like some parts of myself. I make pretty good chocolate chip cookies. But as a whole entity, I’d give myself a ‘Must try harder’ rating. So where does that come from? After all, I have a job, a house, some friends, food on the table and my cat is not only still alive, but she is living the life of Riley. Well, as a teeny tiny person, I discovered quickly that my parents had a lot of stuff to deal with, what with three young kids, money, work, insurance, food shopping, and having a life and all. As such, I figured the way to get a pat on the back was to be… A non-issue. Surely, if I was quiet and had perfect grades, they would recognise my amazing talent for not creating additional problems for them and I would be showered with appreciation for being an exceptional non-issue. But stressed-out busy parents don’t work that way, apparently. They jump from one fire to the next. And I simply wasn’t on fire.
After the epic fail of my strategy, I thought: “Surely I just haven’t applied myself to my new plan enough.” My plan was a grand one, I just hadn’t defined perfect perfectly enough, so I kept working harder at it. You see the vicious cycle that’s being created right before your very eyes? Long story short, I’m now forty and programmed to think that the only thing of value I can offer to the world is not being a problem and being good at school. Which in grown up world means being good at work. So I work hard, and I work a lot. For myself. For others. On keeping my lawn green. On my never-ending quest for perfection. And now, as you have guessed, I have pushed it too far, and my stomach hurts. Although I’ll give you that positive little nugget, I have indeed replaced Red Bull with light Gatorade. Small victories and all.
Now that I understand this cycle, I need to break it. I need to love myself unconditionally. In my imperfect state. I need to deeply believe I am the most awesomest of human beings, even when I’m wearing too-tight sweatpants that give me a muffin top and eating nachos on the sofa with greasy hair. I need to love the imperfect athlete who misses every other workout and actually hates meditating. The person filled with kindness who also just loves to judge people on how douchebaggey their car is. Because if I think that person is enough as she is, maybe I can stop obsessing about trying to be better. And achieving a state of being good enough can apply to work too. And I could have my evenings back to watch Netflix and take up gardening instead of staring at my computer screen feeling guilty for not being productive enough.
Whilst this all sounds like the solution to all my digestion-related problems, the simple truth is that I have no clue how to do that. How does one simply wake up thinking they’ve reached a stage in their life where they can literally look at all they have achieved and simply decide: “Alright I’m good.” And maybe go: “From now on, it’s all about what I fancy doing. How about learning how to do a Japanese tea ceremony, that sounds like fun!” Kind of like psychological retirement. How does one realise there are no more worlds to conquer, and gets comfortable just chilling because you know. All that stuff I went and done was good enough, and I deserve time to do fun stuff now, not just chores.
Like I said, I have no clue. But I’ll try damn hard. So for those of you who are a step ahead of me, feel free to reach out and give me some tips. Because at forty, I am way too young to have a hole in my stomach.