Good Morning(s)

I love mornings because they feel like a clean slate. I don’t know if that’s always a helpful thought to have, because “clean slates” aren’t really how the world works. But sometimes it helps me to know that if I go to bed feeling depressed or anxious or angry that tomorrow is a new day, and the sun will rise again, and the way I’m feeling then won’t be how I feel forever.

Recently, though, mornings have been feeling less innately “clean” and hopeful. I don’t want to waste energy dissecting the impact of Covid on our mental health (there’s already plenty of good material out there on that topic), but of course these circumstances are unique. And it sucks that, in these circumstances, the “fresh start” I usually ascribe to mornings doesn’t seem to apply.

But mornings are still the best part of my day. They are, for logistical (Thomas is still asleep), logical (working hours have not yet begun), and some unfounded (I collapse into a useless ball of anxiety in the evening) reasons, the time of day when I feel most entitled to “take time for myself.” For me, that looks like sitting down with a nice big glass of iced coffee and listening to music. And if there’s one good thing that’s come from shelter-in-place it’s that I don’t have anywhere else to be in the morning except there, at my kitchen table, drinking iced coffee and listening to music.

Maddy Mornings: A Photo Series

Guys.

It’s official: I have too many feelings.

It’s very inconvenient, to have this many feelings all the time.

I keep meaning to finish and post the four other bits of writing I’ve started over the past few days…but, as usual, it’s now 8pm and all I’ve done since finishing work two hours ago is listen to music on the couch.

I think my real problem is that, for as fast as I can type, my heart feels and my brain thinks ten times faster. In the minute it’s taken me to type these sentences out, I’ve already felt like…five different things? Yeesh. Is everyone like this, or am I just crazy? I wouldn’t care as much if it weren’t so overwhelming: to oscillate between happiness and sadness, to barely start to understand one emotion before another comes crashing on in. And what about the times when my heart feels full but I can’t tell if it’s full of happiness or sadness? Or maybe something else entirely?

It doesn’t help that Thomas, the person I’m around most often, is one of the most straightforward and logical people I know. He never seems overwhelmed by his thoughts; whenever I try to explain to him what goes on in my brain he gives me a blank stare or says something along the lines of, “What the f*ck goes on in there?” Fair enough.

So this is nothing but an I’m-sitting-on-the-couch-typing-whatever-comes-into-my-head-as-fast-as-I-can post.

Here are some of the songs I’ve listened to in the past hour:

  • Depth Over Distance / Ben Howard
  • Forever / Ben Harper
  • All I Want Is You / U2
  • Round Here / Counting Crows
  • Hot Heavy Summer / Ben Howard, Sylvan Esso

And I’ve been looking at pictures of trees. Most of my phone’s camera roll is either pictures of trees or flowers from various neighborhoods and parks in San Francisco. Here are a few of my favorites, before I drift off to sleep on this couch…

More Thoughts on Feeling Guilty

I wrote a few weeks ago about my incessant feelings of guilt and shame. In an ideal world, I’d be updating you all with the news that I’ve found a way to rid myself of these overwhelming (and, more often than not, overwhelmingly unhelpful) feelings. But, of course, my weekly therapy sessions and iterative self-improvement processes (journaling, meditating, thought-restructuring) don’t produce change overnight.

What I have done, however, is continue to explore and challenge these thoughts and feelings of guilt. I had two revelations this past week I wanted to share, especially if the struggles I described in my original post resonated with you.

First, and, ok, this wasn’t so much a “revelation” as it was a conversation with (my logical half) Thomas:

Me: I’ve been doing a lot of pro bono work [at Salesforce] recently. It’s cool because I get to work with a bunch of different nonprofits instead of just one, and it’s amazing how passionate people are about so many different causes.

Thomas: *sits there silently because he knows I’m entering full-on ramble mode, so even if he managed to get a word in edgewise I’d probably interrupt him*

Me: But it also stresses me out because I become more and more aware of causes that need attention and I can’t give to all of them. So it kind of just amplifies this guilt that I have about never doing enough. And also the guilt that I have about my privilege because people are suffering in so many ways.

Me: *continues to ramble about how guilty I feel for not doing more volunteer work, or doing something greater to help people, and how awful I feel about myself because of what I’ve been given, but haven’t “deserved”*

Thomas: Well, you could use the energy you spend tearing yourself down to raise other people up instead.

Yowzers. Get owned, Maddy.

Like I said, Thomas is my voice of logic and reason. Whenever I find myself spiraling down into a black hole of unhelpful/intrusive/negative thoughts I ask myself, “What would Thomas say about this thought?” More often than not I end up laughing because, when my thoughts are articulated – especially out loud – it becomes clear that they are generally… pretty ridiculous. Or dramatic, or illogical, etc.

In this conversation’s case, I was struck by how right he was. Of course it’s not helpful for me to waste time and energy tearing myself down. Somewhere along the line I’d convinced myself that privilege, suffering, and happiness were zero-sum games: that if I tore myself down, it would inherently raise others up. That if I self-inflicted suffering, others would feel better. That beating myself up would “motivate” me to do better and more for others.

But, of course, that’s not how the world works. Feeling additional guilt for my privilege wasn’t only not helping others, it was also leaving me paralyzed and less able to help others. And also, how did it make sense for me to want to ensure that everyone (including myself) was on the same – but lower -level, instead of wanting to raise those below me up to mine?


My second revelation came – in what had to be more than just coincidence – in the book I was reading: Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air. In it, Kalanithi touches upon religion’s role in his life:

“The main message of Jesus, I believed, is that mercy trumps justice every time. Not only that, but maybe the basic message of original sin isn’t ‘Feel guilty all the time.’ Maybe it is more along these lines: ‘We all have a notion of what it means to be good, and we can’t live up to it all the time.'”

!!!!!!

There’s no better feeling than being delivered a message – via a book, a song, a conversation, a scent, whatever it may be – when you need it most. (Or maybe, of course, we now hear the message because we’ve opened ourselves to receiving it.)

Yes, I could be giving more. I could be a better, more selfless, more good person. But, for the most part, so could everyone else I know. And while it might be impossible for me to stop striving for this “good” ideal, I could probably start cutting myself a little more slack.

Feeling Guilty for Feeling Guilty

I’ve heard the prayer of confession over a hundred times in my life. But as I sat in church this Christmas Eve watching the reverend at the altar lead the parish in reciting its words, I realized I’d never listened to it.

(For the record, I know exactly why I never listened: because I was a bored kid sitting in church, flipping through that Sunday’s handout to see how much longer it would be until the service was over (Ok, we’re on page four now, and there are nine total pages, so we’re almost halfway done).)

Maybe it was the new reverend’s presence that day – commanding and sure – or maybe it was the congregation, more engaged and earnest than usual on Christmas Eve. Or maybe I had finally made progress at “being present” in each moment (#mindfulness!!!). Whatever the reason, for the first time in the many hours of church services I’ve attended, I stopped to listen to the words of the prayer. I listened closely, following along line by line in my handout as we read together.

And in my mindful listening, or close reading, or whatever you want to call it — one part of the prayer stood out to me:

“Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.”

By what we have done, and by what we have left undone.

 


 

I’ve been asked, and asked myself, many times before: “What’s your biggest regret?” And for whatever reason – though this may seem obvious to others – in that moment I finally understood why I’ve never been able to answer that question: because I never regret things I have done, but instead the things I haven’t done. And, furthermore, “regret” probably isn’t the accurate word to describe how I feel: it’s guilt.

The concept of leaving things “undone” is usually associated with regret (“I regret not doing this” or “I regret not saying that”), but regret isn’t something I often experience. Instead of regretting something I didn’t do or didn’t say, I feel guilty for it. I feel guilty about the plans I cancelled with my friend because I was tired. I feel guilty about not traveling to see my grandmother and family more often. I feel guilty about not volunteering as much as I could, and about having so much privilege. I feel guilty that I don’t work harder and I feel guilty that I’m not as good or kind or selfless of a person as I could be.

It’s a guilt that is persistent and pervasive. It’s a guilt that sits heavy in my stomach and permeates everything I say and do. It’s an unending guilt about everything I could be doing but am not; about the person I could be but am not.

What’s the relationship between guilt and regret? Does it make sense that in my head I confound the two? Where does “shame” fit in? If I feel guilty about who I am, does that qualify instead as shame? Is it useful for me to feel guilty all the time? Does it make me feel worse, or is it motivating?

At the end of the day, I want to operate out of love and honesty, not guilt and fear. I’m afraid the latter is what I’ve been doing.

 


 

Obviously, the next logical step in this self-discovery process is to consult the interwebs, namely Psychologytoday.com.

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Ha. Interesting. Seems relevant.

I’m writing about this because I don’t have answers (Is my guilt warranted? Is it at all helpful? If not, how can find a more productive emotion? One that enables me to be simultaneously selfless and good and not paralyzingly guilt-ridden?). And, in a shocking turn of events, Psychologytoday.com did not provide me with much insight into my own psychological issues. It’s something I’ll have to think more about. This, my friends, is why I go to therapy!