Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What makes you feel good about yourself?

Ok, my much-appreciated readers, I am going to submit an inquiry to you, and I would love to hear any input at all that you can think of.

As you probably know, I have a tendency to feel like nothing I do is ever good enough, that there is no way for me to be a good enough person. Intellectually, I can talk myself into believing that I am a good person--but emotionally, I feel perpetually insufficient, not good enough. Guilt is my constant companion--I can always find something to feel guilty about. For example, when I'm caught up on my current responsibilities, I sometimes turn to feeling guilty about mistakes I made as a teacher--even though I was trying very hard, it was my first year teaching with virtually no training, I helped a lot of my kids, and it was well over a year ago. My therapist wants me to really challenge this belief, which is very deeply ingrained in me. So, I was like, yeah, I'd like to change this belief: I don't want to spend the rest of my life feeling like I'm not good enough, which is, of course, very painful, and which I think is at the core of my depression. But I'm not sure what to replace this belief with.

I figure I need to start by taking, "Nothing I do is ever good enough," and replacing it with, "There IS such a thing as good enough."

That's a start, and here is where I'd like to solicit any ideas from you. Do you have any beliefs about what qualifies as "good enough"? If you feel like a good person, why do you feel like this? Or even if you don't, do you have any ideas for how you *could* feel like a good person? When do you feel satisfied, or proud of yourself? What makes you feel good about yourself? Do you think that there are certain actions that make a person good enough, or do you think that all humans are inherently good enough (no matter how horrible of things they do)? etc. etc. Don't worry about whether your ideas are "smart" enough or "perceptive" enough or anything like that--I just want to hear lots of ideas! Put them out there!

I truly appreciate any thoughts! If you don't want to leave your thoughts in the comment section, you can also send me a private email at kjlammers at gmail dot com.

Thank you!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

I can't believe it! (or: How to work when you are depressed)

But here I am, barely over the edge into October, and I met the goal I set for myself of applying for 30 jobs in September. October's goal is 35. Of course I only did it because I made myself accountable to other people about it, but still, I can't believe I actually did it.

My impulse is, has always been, to not feel good about achieving my goal. Which isn't to say that this wasn't a significant goal; I have long been terrified of the process of applying for jobs, and every time I submit an application it is through an immense amount of effort and will-power to overcome my fears. While it is true that as I get more practice, the actual work involved in applying--tracking down jobs, editing cover letters, choosing which version of my resume to send--is getting easier, it is also true that the fears I have around applying, and perhaps more fundamentally, getting a job, have been very strong. I have a deep fear of not being able to make myself do work, of ending up so miserable in a job that I am paralyzed; this fear is, unfortunately, the result of experiences such as at my last job working for a bankruptcy lawyer where I was having extreme difficulty just making it through the day by the time I quit. (I will also note that the circumstances in that office were particularly difficult for me because I found the practices of my boss to be unethical and had a very hard time supporting such actions with my work.) When I get depressed, I get slow, I get unmotivated, I get stuck; and I am absolutely and utterly terrified of becoming stuck and depressed in a new job.

Feeling stuck doesn't just have to do with job-related work; it also has to do with the basic work of living--being able to make myself do my chores, cook food, do laundry, exercise, and so on and so forth. I am currently not in that kind of place (at least not overall), but I have lived through periods where I felt like I was so down that I had no control over my actions because I could not trust at all my ability to follow through on my commitments to myself. It is incredibly scary (and guilt-inducing) to feel unable to force yourself to do what needs to be done. And the ultimate version of this fear, for me, is the version where I am at a job and cannot do what needs to be done in my job. Add into this scenario the uncontrollable welling up of deep sadness and a boatload of guilt over my inadequate performance, and I'm looking at a really awful situation.

So the idea of working is scary to me. Thus applying for jobs is hard; not because writing cover letters is hard (I've got that pretty well down), but because the process brings up intense fears for me.

To get past these fears and be able to apply anyway, to meet my goal of 30 jobs, I've used a couple of strategies. For one, I've focused on job descriptions whose responsibilities don't sound too overwhelming. Someday, when I am more well, I will want challenge in the workplace again. For now, simply being in the workplace will be enough of a challenge. I'm also applying to some part-time jobs because I feel I would easier be able to handle a moderate workload at first. This may look like I'm trying to take the easy way out, but it's not: it's me recognizing where I am right now, listening to what my emotions are telling me, and taking a step I think I can maybe (hopefully) manage. It's also just pragmatism: if I tried to force myself to apply for jobs that sound a lot more challenging (i.e. jobs that would actually use my considerable intellect), I won't get anywhere; I'll be too immobilized by my dread to actually put applications out there.

The other strategy was suggested by my therapist: because I fear getting into the rhythm of work again and finding myself to be miserable, he said that I need to give myself an out. He set it up this way: I have to promise myself that if I get a job, I will give it all I've got for 3 months (so that I can give myself time to adjust back into the pace of working). And if at the end of 3 months I'm just miserable, I have to have given permission for myself to quit. Worst comes to worst, I could move back home for a few months until grad school starts in the fall. According to my therapist, the point of this "out" is this: until I acknowledge, and deal with, my fears, they're going to be standing in the way of me doing what I need to do, and I'm going to get very little done. And he also said that applying for so many jobs was going to be slogging through the mud, in order to validate how difficult this is for me.

So I did all this. And I still felt awful every time I planned on applying, up until the point where I would start working on the cover letters and then my anxiety would melt away and I'd become clear-minded and be able to work again. Sometimes I truly just felt too awful to start working; on those nights I would either give up and go to sleep, or try to get some positive energy flowing from another source (talking to a friend, reading a funny website, etc.). It sounds silly, but in my experience at least, when I feel just tooooo bad, I cannot for the life of me force myself to do work. In order to start working I have to first make myself feel good enough that my energy and brain can start flowing, either by talking myself down from my anxieties, or by getting happy energy from an unrelated source.

Piece by piece I slogged through the applications, and finally, at the very end of the process, it started to get a lot easier. By the time I finished application number 30 I was tossing them off easy as pie; by having this goal that I had to meet (especially because I was accountable to others for it), I think I was able to force myself through the worst of it, and by doing it so many times, I've come through, hopefully, the most intense part of my fears/dread.

So I suppose I should be proud of myself, should allow myself to feel satisfied and happy for what I've accomplished. This, in itself though haha, is extremely difficult for me. There's the eternal voice in my head: the applications weren't good enough, 30 isn't actually very many, you have other responsibilities to take care of, etc. etc. etc.: it's not good enough. Not good enough. I don't know why but my mind/heart are deeply invested in believing this, that nothing I do is ever good enough. My therapist says that I need to learn to feel satisfied about my accomplishments; and this does make sense, after all, it would be easier to make myself do things if I actually felt good about doing them. So I'm trying to feel good about this; I'm trying to tell myself that it actually was enough, it was good enough, it was actually really hard and a significant achievement. Even just typing those words is hard for me--I suppose that's the next question to explore: why am I so hesitant, almost ashamed it seems, to feel good for accomplishing my goals?

Quick thought in fact: perhaps I am ashamed to feel good because for almost all of my life I have based my identity on excellence--more than excellence in fact: brilliance, superb excellence, magnificence. Some part of me is saying: anything less than astounding brilliance is not good enough for me, so I better not let myself feel good about it. Why I am so invested in seeing myself as almost superhumanly amazing is another question: perhaps it has to do with the fact that I have such a hard time seeing myself as loveable, loved--could I deserve, could I receive, unconditional love, true enthusiastic boundless love, if I weren't excellent? Who am I if not excellent? What worth do I have if I am not constantly excellent? What value do I bring to the world if I am not constantly producing excellence? On what basis would anyone love me if I weren't amazing? (Of course I know factually that many many people love me; these questions are coming from my heart though, not my mind.) Why would anyone love this deeply-flawed, grossly imperfect, unsublimated, human human human, Kate?

(Lol, at least I know I'm still an Enneagram 2.)

Being satisfied, learning to feel satisfied, will then have to come from recognizing that there is no such thing as "enough", no achievement will ever feel like "enough", and thus, what is achieved, is in fact enough.

And it would be nice, lol, to come to believe that I am worthy of love even the way I am right now.