Nurture yourself like you would nurture a plant.

It’s been a while since I’ve sat down to type up a pondering post but, here I am.

I’ve been in a bit of a weird place lately. One that’s felt familiar… always the same, yet always uncomfortable. In my life I find myself oscillating between feeling “FINALLY, I have something that gives me purpose and gives me meaning!” and “OMG. I’ve done all. I’ve failed at it all. There is nothing left to do. Nothing is interesting. I am chronically exhausted. What’s the point?” BTW- Yes. I have a therapist that I speak to regularly. I know how all this sounds.

I’ve finally noticed a pattern.

I get extremely motivated by projects. I work furiously on them. When I am inspired there’s nothing that holds me back. I am just so glad that I have something that lights me up and gives me direction that I just want to work on it all the time. I do this because I know that the inevitable is coming, the barrier I hit when my motivation plummets and I inevitably begin to criticize everything I’ve done until I finally berate myself into quitting. Then I sulk, exhausted, and feel sorry for myself and wonder why I’m such a mess with no stamina or motivation. Then I rally and find something new that gets me excited.

On and on and on…

It’s a really depressing cycle that leads to me shaming myself a lot and it’s also gotten to the point where something piques my interest and I think “NO. THANK. YOU.” This is a tragedy because I love finding something that brings me joy to work on. I know deep, deep-down that I can do anything so this really has led me to feel limited, useless, and resentful towards myself when I get stuck.

But back to my revelation.

Remember the part above where I said that “when I am inspired there’s nothing that holds me back?” I mean nothing holds me back. Not hunger, not fatigue, not thirst, not aching in my body… nothing. My mind is on a mission and there is nothing that will get in my way- that’s what I internalized growing up: “If you’re motivated you can work through everything effortlessly.” This may be so for some people, but I know for a fact that it takes me effort to work through. ‘I have to ignore everything because if I rest the inevitable failure will come sooner and I need this!’ my mind will scream. I expect the energy of motivation to propel me forward indefinitely.

Obviously this doesn’t work. I inevitably get exhausted and when I get exhausted criticism and shame swoop in. These cause me to feel excessive sympathy for myself. Sympathy is convenient. Lots of pity and sorrow… I get to be a victim. Any criticism or shaming from that point on can be written-off and pushed away as excessively mean and awful and I feel virtuous because I am being kind. I can snuggle up under a blanket or have ice-cream or watch excessive amounts of tv. I avoid people I know to be critical and I mope around people who I know to be empathetic. I do this because it allows me to be “nurtured.”

Human life is all about programs, routines, and habits in our behaviour that allow us to get our needs met. This barely coherent pattern has always allowed me to get my need for nurturing sort-of met. This is an external pattern. When I was young I was raised by one parent who was (in my experience) often critical towards me and my efforts and one parent who was there to offer me sympathy when I wasn’t feeling well, or when things went badly, or when the other parent was over-critical, among other sad times. It led to attention-seeking, hypochondriac, and victim behaviour because it got me something approximating nurturing. There wasn’t a lot of energy for nurturing when things were going well. This isn’t a pity-grab, this is just how I experienced my childhood.

True nurturing is getting enough sleep, eating well and enough, drinking water, moving, and love. The nurturing that I’ve been giving myself and that I was given was probably more indulgent. Rest and love, yes- but probably a little bit heavy on the treats, sympathy, and moping. This isn’t blame, it’s just how it was because it was all we knew. I always felt that I deserved junk-food and whining because there are difficult things I’ve walked through and the small amounts of biochemical pleasure that treats and complaining bring are better than nothing and suffering. But this isn’t nurturing, it’s wallowing. It’s resting, but it is not strengthening me for what’s next.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Maya Angelou

So now I see the pattern. Feeling sorry for myself is a good excuse to be nurtured in any way I can get it and what better way to feel sorry for myself than to fail and beat myself up?

I have finally internalized that I can do better than this.

I need to be nurtured. Now that I’m not a child anymore, I can come up with the best and most amazing ways to take care of myself that don’t involve sympathy, junk-food, binge watching tv, and sleeping to forget how much I suck… Because I don’t. I just need to be cared for and loved unconditionally by myself no matter how things are going. I don’t only need nurturing when things have fallen apart, I also need nurturing when I am doing amazingly well- When I am feeling inspired, confident, competent, successful, energetic, and joyful. I want to feel sustainably cared for. I don’t want to burn out. I don’t want to run into built-in failure so that I will rest.

So what can I do to move forward deliberately and interrupt the cycle before it all repeats? Most of all, I feel like unconditional love for myself is key. Recognizing this pattern is crucial and will change how I approach life. Also, planning is an underutilized tactic for me. Ignorance of my actual desired result and willful negligence of any plan I do put together is just asinine. I realize now that this might have been a way for me to deliberately fall apart and fail, but beyond this moment I really want to have my goals and results more clearly set. I don’t want to have to keep moving because I feel that if I stop I will lose my momentum. By planning I can go into projects with everything I need to know at my fingertips. I won’t have to rely on my brain to remember everything because I have honest-to-goodness, pen-to-paper planned. I can take breaks! I can rejuvenate myself! I can’t care for myself if I can’t put my project away for the night and I can’t be open to new solutions if I can’t go for a walk or spend time with my family.

I’ll admit that this change scares me. I don’t like where I am, but I also don’t know what is on the other side of this. What if I never feel that rush of inspiration again? What if my projects run out of steam because I didn’t fly through them? What if I don’t feel nurtured despite my very best efforts? What if I still feel sorry for myself even though I planned and took care of myself and all of that stuff? What if I squelch delight of the unknown through all of my planning? I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but I am learning to trust. My intuition tells me it’s time to try this new way, so I’m going to let myself be guided. I love myself enough to trust that everything will work out exactly as its meant to.

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