One of the benefits/drawbacks of being a loudmouth is that people often mistake volume for confidence. As with many people, there is often a sizable gap between my outer bluster and my inner assurance. Which is fine, for the most part. I benefit at times from acting “as if” and soldiering through a difficult situation. But this inner conflict can also make things a bit confusing, for no one more so than me. See, it feels like I second-guess myself on everything: my choice of snack, the shirt I’m wearing, that thing I said when you asked what I thought. I spend an alarming proportion of my day playing “what if” or “should I have.” It is, as you can probably imagine, exhausting.
Now, obviously, I can’t actually be second-guessing myself on everything. I’d be catatonic. But it’s close. It’s close.
I have a few people in my life who seem immune to any sort of second-guessing. I don’t mean to imply they don’t have a conscience – just that they have a raging case of self-confidence. Or maybe just an annoying ability to accept things as they are. Whatever. I mean, I admire these people tremendously, but I have no illusions I’ll become one of them. I’m too far into this whole life experiment to expect to change my spots that much.
I also have people in my life who second-guess themselves as much as me, if not more. And while it’s comforting to know I’m not alone, it’s also a little disturbing to realize how rampant this sort of self-doubt is. How few people seem to be truly at peace with the choices they’ve made. And perhaps that’s partly because our lives are cushy enough that we have the luxury to navel-gaze about the most trivial, self-focused matters.
I highly doubt many of the Pakistan flood victims are sitting around wondering if they should have held their tongue the day before because maybe that one guy’s mad at them. They’re probably a tad too focused on, you know, surviving. Of course, I could be wrong. There could be a Pakistani or two, my other-side-of-the-world twins, who aren’t getting anything productive done, so busy are they thinking about what would have happened if they’d just MOVED before the floods. It’s a shame. It’s a waste. It is, at times, my life.
Thus, for one week, I decided to stop second-guessing myself. Now, this is precisely the sort of dumb thing a person would attempt to do only if she truly had no idea the extent to which she indulges in such behavior. (Sometimes ignorance is adorable and, let’s face it, without it, this blog probably would never have been conceived.) I mean, people, it’s insane. I’ll spare you the mundane details of most of it, but it was for days an embarrassing whirlwind of noticing my own inner insanity: “I dunno. Maybe I should have had yogurt instead of cereal?” and “I should have worked out five minutes longer” and “WHY DID I SAY THAT?????”
Clearly, this sort of thing is programmed deep into my brain and it was foolish to think that in a week I could cavalierly tackle it. Instead, what I wound up doing was engaging in even more self-indulgent chatter. To wit, a play in one act:
Me: “Why did I even say that to her? She must think I’m awful.”
Tryin’ to change Me: “Oh, stop. She probably didn’t think twice about it.”
M: “No, really. She thinks I’m insane. And terrible.”
M: “I’m an idiot.”
T2CM: “Well, you might have a point… Hey, yeah. You do! You ARE an idiot.”
Then, because the universe has a wicked sense of humor, something happened to me smack in the middle of my week o’ change that exposed this delicate nerve of mine for all it’s worth. I won’t go into too much detail, because it would bore even me, but I was in a meeting where someone misread my body language – I was feelin’ all allergy-ridden, scowly, and arm-crossed-y – and proceeded to judge and berate me in front of the group.
Now, said person was not of sound mind. I could tell that from the moment she opened her mouth. I understood that she was in a place of pain and, at the time, my compassion and intellectual assessment of the situation combined forces in such a way that I took what happened at face value. Yes, it was uncomfortable, but this was a loony duck engaging in loony behavior. She didn’t know me. It wasn’t actually about me and even though I could have tried to correct her or challenge her, I knew it wouldn’t have made any difference. It wasn’t worth it. The people at the table with us who know me knew she was wrong. Enough said. Let’s move on.
End of story?
Yes…until the next day.
Because, see, my second-guessing doesn’t always happen immediately. Sometimes it sneaks up on me in the most cruel and unexpected ways, just when I think it’s safe to go back into the water. Thus, the day after said encounter took place, I woke feeling “off” and “cranky.” As I poured my cereal that morning I didn’t even have time to think about whether or not that was the right choice, as some other, darker thoughts had crept in of their own volition. Thoughts about that woman and what she said.
Throughout the day, my anger, shame and embarrassment were ratcheted up to 11 as I went over and over what happened in my head. Logic was nowhere to be found. That calm acceptance of the day before, about the truth in the circumstances, was nowhere to be found. Instead, they were replaced by the shame of being called out in front of people I like and admire. Anger at this woman’s misreading of me as someone hostile and unhelpful. Fear that maybe she was right about me. Resentment that no one in the group stepped in to “save” me. Resentment that I didn’t speak up for myself at the time.
Oh, it was gross. I mean, there’s simply no other word for the way in which my self-indulgent analysis of this situation overtook the next 24 hours of my life. I ran through it again and again, even as I tried to remind myself of this week’s change, even as I tried to accept the situation at face value and move on. I knew I was supposed to, specifically, not do that this week. But it felt like I didn’t have a choice. I was just watching myself drown.
Only, then something happened. I'm not sure what, but I think I exhausted myself with my obsession, or maybe I got bored and had other stuff to do. Almost as quickly as it had come in, the second-guessing of the situation left the building. I returned to the place that I had been originally: understanding events at face value, not taking it personally. (And, to my own credit, it is supremely difficult not to take it personally when someone is, specifically, attacking you personally.)
In the end, I was left feeling a little sheepish and shell-shocked, vulnerable at the recognition of how deeply this sort of behavior is ingrained in me and, perhaps most frightening, how powerless I feel to stop it.
I’d like to think that this was exactly what I needed to happen this week: a Big Lesson that would wear me out to the point that I’d change my behavior out of sheer fatigue. Because that’s often what it takes for me to make a change: a lot of pain, a lot of weariness. I play with negative behavior until I’m simply too hurt and tired to keep at it any longer. As the saying goes, I’m a slow learner and a quick forgetter.
I suppose I’d like to think that I’ve changed as a result of that encounter, but the truth is I’m cringing while I write this. As I contemplate posting this and putting it out there, I’m filled with fear and self-doubt. That I’m exposing way too much of my soul here. That you’ll all finally know what a freak I really am, how unstable and imbalanced. That you’ll never want anything to do with me again, never want to read another word that I wrote.
But, then, some part of me also knows that I’ll be posting this entry today despite my fears. And maybe that’s not change, exactly, but it’s something. Perseverance, maybe? Spunk? Insanity? I dunno. I just know I better wrap this up before I second-guess myself right out of following through. It happens sometimes.