So I’m sick. This is not my first rodeo so I started treating myself for adrenal fatigue and seasonal allergies then after 2 months of not getting better I finally went to the doctor. I said, “I have adrenal fatigue and seasonal allergies.” He said, “Well let’s start with the symptoms first before we make a diagnosis.” I listed my symptoms. He said, “Let’s support your adrenals and treat your allergies.” He also said, “Something else is going on and I don’t know what it is so let’s do some tests.” So I’m waiting on test results.
I blame my location – a brutally cold winter left me in mild depression for weeks on end, then because I live in one of the worst allergy locations in the US, winter lead straight into allergic spring. There are probably some other factors, but the seasons feel like the main culprit.
My sickness comes with symptoms that range from muscle weakness, poor coordination, and a need to rest for much of the day to headaches, sore eyes and itchy skin. Other than some of the painful symptoms, I’m not often hurting.
But I have been suffering.
I’ve gone from working around 50 hours a week to working 30 hours a week – and my work hours continue to go down each week. Fortunately my business has been able to withstand this decrease in work hours, but there’s a part of me that is terrified about this drop in capacity. It’s my inner critic. The critic is afraid that I won’t be able to support myself and that I’ll need to move back to Australia to be supported by my family and the social security system there. The critic tells me that I’m sick because of something I did wrong (but it’s not sure what).
I started to notice the inner critic when, despite being in reasonably good spirits, I started to feel a creeping sense of depression. Curious about this contrast between my moment-to-moment emotional experience and the depression that was creeping in, I soon saw that the depression was a friend of the inner critic’s. While the critic had been subtly informing me of its fears and my fault, it was starting to wear on me. My inability to work to full capacity was being criticized.
Probably because I’ve had a lot of time to practice, I saw the depression and it’s connection with the inner critic quite quickly. I have my eye on this process because my awareness is quite centered. If I am criticizing myself, then I’m not seeing myself. When we don’t feel seen, we don’t feel important. When we don’t feel important we’re not getting those little doses of serotonin that make us feel valuable. And when we don’t feel valuable we can move into depression.
When we move into depression we might “unsee” ourselves even more through distraction. Just before I sat down to write this, I wanted to eat cake as a way to distract myself to manage my down mood, but I knew that that would be another way to unsee myself. I decided to see myself by writing instead. I made a choice to validate my experience rather than invalidate it. I wanted to be seen rather than to feel unimportant and of no value. I might still have cake, but I want to have cake because I want to have cake, not because I want to run away from myself.
I have a daily question on my to-do list: “Am I using the opposite of self-compassion to run my self-compassion business?” What I’m checking in with here, on a daily basis, is where the inner critic is in relation to my motivation to run my business. Am I motivated from fear or love? It’s a dance, but love is the winning motivation more and more.
As I write this, I feel tremendously connected to my community – all of you who have walked with me, who have listened to me and have shared with me. I feel the depth of our connection in our common humanity experiences of love and fear. Thank you.
And so my practice deepens through this period of ill health. I have to work less, which means my inner critic will have more to say, which means I have more to practice with. “No mud, no lotus,” as Thich Nhat Hanh invites. I am learning to not abandon myself in the face of not meeting my very early learned expectations of hard work in exchange for approval. Hard work is how my brain learned to survive – my task now is to tenderly let her know that I won’t die if I don’t work hard.
I consider self-compassion to be my lifelong practice. When I no longer need self-compassion I’ll take up painting ensōs and growing orchids. Actually, maybe I can take those up earlier … maybe my business doesn’t actually need 50 hours per week from me. Maybe it’s only my inner critic that requires this. Maybe she’ll learn that it’s safe to paint and grow for some of the week.