I’ve found the festive period overwhelming this year. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. So I’ve been trying to discover what exactly I could let go, to make my life easier and improve my mood.
I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a ton of pressure and expectation resting on my shoulders. Very little of it is useful. Very little of it stands up to scrutiny. So I’m scrutinising each pressure and expectation that comes up to see where it comes from and if I truly need it. We all judge, and are judged, harshly, about absolute rubbish. Size, shape, colour of skin, wrinkliness of face, stylishness of clothes, what car we drive, what gadgets we have, how we behave, how our children behave… we judge ourselves too, indiscriminately.
Let’s look at size and weight, one (two?) of my favourite issues. Recently, having been on steroids, I’ve put on a fair amount of weight. My smaller clothes are now too tight and I can see in the mirror that my face looks fuller and my behind sticks out more. But I’m determined not to care. As long as I can look neat and tidy for work and reasonable in casual clothes so not to embarrass the children at school functions and synagogue, there’s no reason for me to care what size I am because of the way I look.
I do care that I’m feeling less fit, and that my diet is not brilliantly healthy right now. So I’m trying to do more exercise that I enjoy (yoga and long walks in the fresh air), and eat more healthily – which for me means lots of salad and vegetables, good quality protein and less empty carbs.
Note I say ‘for me’ – everyone is different. Never mind blood type diets, what works as a healthy (or even weight loss) eating plan is as individual as fingerprints. So if my attempts to eat healthy food are successful, and I lose some weight, great. If not, I’m still lovely. The Cambridge Diet worked well for me until my colitis flared up, so if it ever does go into remission again, I’ll try it again. Until then – not possible.
At the moment, I’m fairly poorly (viral throat infection). I noticed when my youngest had something similar that he didn’t try to struggle through – he lay on the sofa cuddled up with a blanket and a hot water bottle, watched rubbish TV and was given Calpol and drinks. He ate when he was hungry, dozed when he needed to sleep, and perked up within a few days. So that’s the tack I’m taking now – albeit with paracetamol rather than Calpol. When I feel up to doing stuff, I do it – when something is absolutely necessary for the health and welfare of my dependants, I either force myself to do it, or delegate. Otherwise, I sit on the sofa, watch rubbish TV and ban myself from worrying until I feel better. And actually, that should be my strategy forever.
Housework and the insane amounts of paperwork that need to be done can wait – unless it’s paperwork that is legally necessary, or I start to feel uncomfortable in my space. Work is a choice because I value the money I get paid, so I will make the effort to get into the office nine to five Monday to Friday and do a good job of whatever tasks I’m given. And I enjoy my work a great deal. But – it’s a choice.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, if we tear up the rulebooks that have been imposed on us from outside, if we refuse to just accept the societal norms, if we look at each individual situation on its own merits – rewrite our own individual rules, and refuse to impose them on others as ‘the only right way to do things’ – our lives might be better. It’s certainly a technique I’m going to try to prevent the feeling of overwhelm that I’m subject to most of the time.
Of course, any of us who accept that we have a mental illness, admit to it, and talk about the problems and details of living with it, well we’re tearing up the rulebook right there, by refusing to be ashamed, intimidated into silence, by fighting prejudice. In the end, perhaps we can not only encourage those around us to tear up their own copies, but perhaps we can arrange that the master copy of the rulebook gets destroyed, or at least edited to remove this one rule. By extension, anyone who fights against any kind of prejudice is doing exactly the same. But there are many kinds of pressures and expectations, some subtle, some overt, all damaging.
I know this is not news to most of you reading this. Maybe it’s something that cannot be taught, but something that you only truly understand when you’re ready. Since Judaism is my culture by birth, a teaching that I heard once has stayed with me, and I find it relevant now. A great Jewish leader called Hillel was once asked to sum up Judaism in one sentence (or while he could keep standing on one leg, depending on the source of the tale) and he said “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary; go and learn”. If there is going to be a single rule to live by, this sounds like a good one to me. Something to use as a baseline for evaluating all of the other rules…
I’ll keep you all posted on how it all goes – but I would like to hear of your experiences of tearing up the rulebook too.