There’s so much I haven’t gotten done this spring. And much that I have but listing those things doesn’t make me feel any better about those that haven’t gotten done. It’s lateish June and I haven’t planted the beds or even the pots I intended to for my patio garden. I haven’t even dragged the herbs outside where they can get light and grow. I’m going to get the herbs out there. The other stuff? Well at least my new lawn guy has whacked the weeds and sprayed them. I’d like, before winter, to put down layers of newspaper and compost to help prepare those little beds for next year.
Why am I telling you this? A friend of mine posts about how hard it is to live with chronic illnesses every day, multiple times per day. How many times has she posted about the spoon theory? And even I, who live it, get tired of hearing it and see it as an excuse. The idea is that we only have so much energy. I prioritize my goals, or try to, and do the things that can’t wait first. The vacuuming can wait. The bills may not. The garden can wait.
Should I expect other people to understand those things? Really, I don’t think so. I hear people complain all the time, whether it’s diabetes or chronic pain, but I just don’t think we get to expect that the world constantly understand. No one ever said that life was fair. It’s nice when someone understands – or at least doesn’t just assume the worst – but it’s irrational to think that they should.
Last week, our friend Ally wrote a little bit about her view of the word should. She didn’t write anything wrong. It just happens that should and the perception that perhaps people who don’t accomplish things they think they should do are weak and pathetic are triggers for me. And Ally, if you’re reading this – this is not intended as calling you out or putting you down. Your words simply triggered something in me that I needed to explore and eventually write about. It took the better part of a week to sort out some of those feelings. I’m just acknowledging the trigger.
I am sensitive to the word should and I try not to say it out loud – or to write it for that matter. Albert Ellis (whom I had the great fortune to do a workshop with once upon a time) drilled into a couple generations of therapists to stop shoulding on ourselves. There is indeed a judgment to should. Of course, he also didn’t like other demand words like must, have to, or need to as he saw them as inflexible and dogmatic and part of his theory of irrational beliefs.
So, I am sensitive to those words. And I try not to use them. But they’re still inside. Should, to me, mostly are those things that I know are good for me or that someone else tells me I need to do, but I either don’t really want to or I don’t have the energy for it. You know, like I should exercise more. And it doesn’t seem to matter to me that I reframe them. I need to exercise more! So what? I really don’t like exercise for the sake of exercise and I have always found it hard to motivate (force) myself to do it no matter how much good I think it might do for me.
My inside is full of shoulds. Musts. Need tos. Sometimes the shoulds are the very smallest of things. I should vacuum. I should go to the post office. And I see myself as weak and pathetic. And I feel pretty sure that others see me as weak and pathetic. And yes, I read things in where they do not exist or are not intended. But some people really do feel that way. The difference, I think, is that some people know that I deal with chronic depression and pain and fibromyalgia and I keep trying.
Try is another trigger, of course. Yoda is constantly thrown at those of us who try. “There is no try!” Well bullshit there is no try. There is constant try. There are successive approximations. There are baby steps and small goals. I try to get one small goal accomplished every day. Sometimes I get quite a bit more done. Sometimes even the smallest goal doesn’t happen. But I keep trying. “There is only do!” Yeah, right. I do get frustrated with myself. I should all over me. So I haven’t slept more than a few hours a night in weeks, I should be able to do more. I should get all my small goals plus a couple big ones done. Hell, I should have gotten all these things done years ago and things would be different now.
There’s judgment and depression in the shoulds. I make an effort not to say or write the word. But it still lives inside. And I really don’t know whether that is weak and pathetic. It depends on the day for whether I see the effort, the journey, the trying as worthwhile or whether I see the lack of progress as pointless.