September Editorial: Guilt Free Zone
This month, PHS Founder and Managing Editor Trish Wylie, talks about guilt and the unnecessary mental torture we inflict upon ourselves...
I spiralled this week, depression-wise.
Having got to the point where I've accepted there will be the odd day here and there when I don't want to talk to anyone or do anything and just need to hide away with a good book or a few movies, I should have recognized the warning signs. But I didn't. Or I chose to ignore them. Or I let it go too far before I realized what was happening. Either way, I blame myself, which of course makes it worse.
Knowing why it happened helps a little. As does identifying the triggers like avoiding doing what I know needs to be done, isolating myself, not responding to texts, messages, emails or phone calls and - the most cardinal sin of all - comparing where I am in my writing journey to another writer's success. I even did some math on the latter subject this week. And I hate math with a vengeance! The result? Guilt that I wasn't further along the road to reclaiming my career. I must be lazy or unambitious or not serious enough about it. I've obviously lost my spark!
Why did I let it myself spiral? Why didn't I stop it happening or engage in any of the various little tricks I've adopted to knee depression in the nuts and run towards the light? Does part of me enjoy wallowing in misery?
As I forcibly drag myself out of the abyss, I've been doing some thinking about that and the guilt we inflict upon ourselves every day about a million and one different things. A slice of cake when we know we shouldn't have one is just the tip of the iceberg. There's the guilt we feel for not spending enough time with family and friends, for missing irreplacable moments with children because we have to work, for not talking to someone for years then realizing they are gone forever and we've left it too late. Those things matter and we all do our best to make more of an effort for the people we care about. But even then, it frequently feels like its not quite enough or plays on the guilt we still carry for not doing something about it sooner.
Most of us experience guilt at least once a day. Things on a to-do list that didn't get done. Dishes that sit by a sink for longer than they should. A project we've been meaning to get to/finish for months. Being late for a meeting or work or lunch or a school pick-up. Forgetting someone's birthday or an anniversary or not making it to a simple coffee date you've been promising you'd have for months.
Being a writer is a guilt minefield. Not hitting your wordcount. Not selling a book after years of submitting. Someone else's book selling better than yours must mean you didn't do a good enough job, right? That lack of skill is why every reviewer/reader didn't love it. You should have spent more time revising/editing it before you released it into the wild. It's got absolutely nothing to do with not being able to please all of the people, all of the time...
I talked last month about the words we need to delete from our lives to help us adopt more of a glass half full attitude. And I think it's the same for guilt. We need to accept some things are beyond our control, that the world won't end if we don't get everything done and tell ourselves it's okay to push some deadlines back if we need to take some down time. The only one who can forgive you for your perceived 'sins' is you, but in order to do that, you have to learn to let go.
That's always been my biggest problem. And I totally lay the blame for that at the feet of my inner control freak. But hard as it is to accept, we can't control everything.
Prioritizing what matters most is the first step towards shedding some guilt. We have to ask ourselves what really matters to us, who and what we would miss most if they/it weren't there anymore and then list everything else in descending order of importance. The things at the bottom of the list, we can start to gradually eliminate guilt-wise. So what if the dishes don't get done or you take a little longer to finish a DIY/craft/decorating/gardening project? Those things will still be there if you set them aside to spend an afternoon with your kids/grandkids or or make time to have lunch with a friend.
Indulge yourself. Take a deep breath and let some of your guilt go. Live your life the way you want to in a way that makes you happy. If there is one hard lesson the unoverse seems to think I needed to be reminded of over and over again in the last year, it's that life is short. Too short. And we have to make the most of every moment of it. Guilt has no part in that.
I therefore declare this a guilt free zone. I'm not suggesting you run out and murder your arch enemy and hide the body. Nor am I suggesting anything illegal in any shape or form. Do either of those things and it's out of my hands, absolution-wise. But I can tell you categorically it's okay not to feel guilty about everything. Give yourself a break! Be kind to yourself. Every step you take forwards is a step in the right direction, even if there are days when it feels like you've taken a half dozen steps back.
I took a coupla dozen this week. But you know what? Shit happens. I'm not gonna feel guilty about it anymore because today I got up, got dressed and got going. Take that depression!
What do you feel guilty about? Is there guilt you could let go without causing a catastrophe? Tell us in the comments or join the discussion on this subject on our Social Media using the hashtag #GuiltFreeZone