Thursday, March 15, 2007


I've been posting a few self care related posts at the moment - I apologise if they seem self indulgent or just dull. I think some of these issues may resonate for some other people, and if they do, I hope it feels helpful. I don't necessarily have all the answers about good mental health - it's something I am always learning about.

When I am exhausted, stressed or unwell, I really struggle with basic assertiveness skills, or being able to articulate what my needs are. I can make broad general statements such as “I’m really stressed out! I need space!” But breaking that down into chunks that make explicitly clear how much space I need, and how that needs to look can be extremely hard. Also, my good Catholic ‘lady’ training can be hardest to resist when I am low on energy. My training tells me to be nice, to be accommodating, to not have needs, to smooth over any tricky social situation – i.e. to not be honest, assertive, empowered or to do self care. I can be feeling like a chaotic zombie on the inside, but on the outside, be putting out heaps of energy, chatting calmly and being charming. I hate that I ‘revert to type’ under stress, but it’s not exactly surprising.

At different times friends, lovers, dates and activist buddies can find it confusing when I am not clear enough or explicit enough. It’s not really anyone’s fault. It’s not really my fault that I go into unthinking people-pleaser mode – that asserting myself feels so overwhelming in the face of tiredness – that getting distant rather than tackling the issue feels more achievable when parts of my life that I’m juggling at the time start spilling over the edges. It’s not the fault of others who want my time and attention – who are better able to articulate what they want at that point in time – that I am feeling drained and don’t have the capacity to be assertive.

At times my people-pleasing has been so over the top; it has been terrifying to the part of me that is a committed feminist. In the past, when my depression has been particularly raging, I have ended up in long, completely incompatible relationships that I did want to be in, or have committed time and energy to activist campaigns when I have needed to be working to take care of the pile of mounting bills.

Tiredness can mean I get frightened of those who have a clearer agenda, or just have quite set ways of being in the world and achieving things. With exhaustion comes a reduction in organisation and daily rituals – things I’ve always been challenged by, anyway – so anyone with a clearer sense of how to do things, how to tackle an issue, or are just used to doing things this way rather than that way – are always going to be able to get their needs met (or go about it in a way that works for them), as I feel unable to articulate opposition. It’s not that these people are anything other than nice, friendly, pleasant individuals, and often they may try hard to be supportive about how I am feeling, however anyone who is very set in their ways just feels too much to cope with when my assertiveness skills have gone on holiday.

I often end up feeling like an arsehole when I have to say to people ‘I can’t organise this community meeting’ or ‘I can’t perform for at least the next month’ or ‘please don’t call me or invite me to go out for the next few weeks’. It can sound like I am uncommitted to causes, friendships (or in the case of dating or relationships – just commitment phobic) and sometimes it just hurts people’s feelings. But the boundary setting has to happen, and if people are hurt by my attempts to protect my mental health, there isn’t much I can do. It not like I can be a successful community activist, friend or human being without taking care of myself and my needs. It’s a lesson I have to learn all over again each time I’m not doing so well. Hopefully each time, I’ll learn self care and boundary setting a little better each time, and unlearn that masochistic Catholic lady bullshit a little more each time.

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