I’m generally quiet when meeting more than one new person. I like to observe for a while before jumping into the fray. My entire life, this has led to people to assign me to one of two categories: mysterious or, more often, snobby/standoffish/bitchy. Being perceived as mysterious is fun (because I actually an open book), but the snob label caused me a lot of distress when I was younger. Fortunately, being called names has lost its importance as I age and the associated upset has dissipated.
In recent months, a similar distress has reappeared from a strange source: social media. I feel bad for not engaging with readers. I’m sorry I’m not promoting the great work of other bloggers. I hate that tweets and comments sometimes sit for days before I can respond to them. These are legitimate reasons to be unhappy with lackluster attendance to social media, but the anxiety took me by surprise.
My preoccupation isn’t about the names the kids at school call me. I highly doubt anyone is saying, “Kerrie didn’t retweet me. What a snob.” It’s that I very much want to participate, but am struggling to even do the bare minimum. That leaves me feeling like I’m letting people down and failing at my goals. Like I’m once again a kid who is falling short of expectations. Except this is worse because it’s my own expectations that I’m not living up to.
Feeling like I was falling short was once my default mode. It was particularly true in my early years of being disabled. The shame of being sick enveloped me and I constantly criticized behaviors that I thought I should have control over (but didn’t… because I was sick). After some intense self-compassion work last year, I thought I was over that. Wrong. The difference is that last year I felt well enough to keep up with almost everything I needed to do. When I couldn’t, catching up didn’t take long. Also, my expectations were much lower. It’s not like I was better at social media a year ago; beyond a cursory involvement, it wasn’t even on my to do list.
That I’ve started to call 2014 my good year is an indication of my current mental state. The temporary backslide that started this spring has begun to feel permanent. It has reignited all sorts of issues I’d thought resolved. Turns out it’s easy to resolve something when you’re not feeling it acutely. Fear, grief, shame, disappointment… they weren’t gone for good, they were just on an extended vacation.
I’m still committed to being kind to myself and avoiding harsh self-criticism, but it’s a lot harder to manage when every day brings several new reminders of ways in which I’m falling short. I can tell myself I didn’t do X because I was sick (and not because of some personal failing), but the fact remains that I didn’t do X. Whether I’m at fault is irrelevant; the outcome remains the same.