My mother never let me show my weaknesses. ‘Complainers never succeed’ – she’d say.
And success was the only measure for me to ever get any love or recognition from her. If I got a ‘B’ she would joke to her friends that I ‘deserve a whipping’, and if I wasn’t getting the best results I was ‘an embarrassment’. It wasn’t about my personal progress: I had to beat everyone in my class. I had to be better than her friends’ children. Everything was a competition. And losers, or even runner-ups were never loved nor appreciated.
For so many years, I’ve been working hard, winning and trying so very hard to get her approval, and when I felt like couldn’t anymore – I ran away.
But the ‘runaway’ scholarship that got me to England wasn’t good enough to make her love me – first time I came back home for a Christmas break, she kicked me out and I had to stay with my grandma. Funding myself through the university wasn’t good enough either – you see, I went to Oxford Brookes, not the University of Oxford – something that she often ‘misrepresents’ to her friends. Because my actual, true achievements simply weren’t enough. All of my hard work was never enough to make her proud, to make her want to show me any affection.
I’m now an adult, but I still can’t escape her. I’ve only recently started to realise how this childhood trauma has been having an impact on me, causing some of my toxic behaviour.
I always try so hard. But if I do a lot of things for a person, and don’t get reciprocation (especially when I can see that they do it for others, just not for me) – a smart thing to do would be to take a step back and evaluate – why is this happening?
Are they taking advantage of me? Are they feeling pressured into accepting my efforts? Are they feeling sorry for me? Why aren’t making as much effort as me? There could be hundreds of explanations, demanding completely different actions.
But that would be a smart thing to do, not my hormonal, pain-induced, irrational, toxic way. My way is to do it like I did with mum: go all in – and just try harder, do more – because it always seems that I’m not good enough as I am – with a hope that maybe I’ll get some of that love and attention back if only I just try harder.
Like a lovesick girl, my Forest Gump to your Jenny.
The worst part is that once I realise that I’m in this position – I love you Jenny – , I get an anxiety attack. I’ve had experience with them in the year of my wedding, but they’ve only recently returned. Most times they are short – it’s hard to breath, my heart is racing and my hands are shaking. Sometimes they are paralytic and can last for a couple of days, when I completely lose the ability to even have a conversation, when I am physically sick, feel like I’m floating in space, opposed to my usual sprinting lifestyle. It does seem to coincide with my endometriosis cycle, so I’m not even surprised.
But it’s very scary, every time. I’ve had to leave many events early, that I’ve been looking forward to for weeks, because I was physically not handling it well. I’ve left group chats and unfollowed/unfriended people because I couldn’t breathe. Despite telling myself that I am – in fact – good enough, I would get into the rabbit hole of anxiety, because for some reason I need to get an ‘approval’. I need to hear ‘ Good job’. What else am I supposed to do to make you love me?
A couple of months ago I’ve decided that I needed a change. I needed a break, I needed a breath of fresh air: I wasn’t happy. I had too many of these anxiety episodes – in fact, I started being anxious about getting one. And every time it would happen, I would feel exactly the same I’ve felt back then, almost 15 years ago, and I would just want to crawl into that dark hole.
So many things that I was looking forward to for so long would be ruined, because – to me – it would seem like I was the only one waiting for them and doing things for them to happen, and what I prepared was still never ever not good enough… And as soon that thought would cross my head, the racing heartbeat et al would follow swiftly. I try so hard, and nothing ever works.
I needed to stop organising things. I was the driver of most of the events in my life, and I had no more energy to drive… So I decided to take a step back. Instead of making an effort I decided to start reciprocating it – I waited for friends to get in touch first – and then I was ready to play. Instead of feeling the need to extend the invite to the max, I started to value quality over quantity – reminding myself throughout – it’s not my responsibility to extend the invite to people who never make any effort with me.
And that was a mini-motto I’ve lived by for the past two-three months. And whilst it’s not been long, unsurprisingly, three things came out of it:
First of all – Relief – that almost resembled what it felt like finishing my university degrees – no more deadlines, no more tick-boxing, no more stress – that sort of relief.
Don’t get me wrong: I still continued trying hard when I knew my effort would be recognised. I focused on my job, and – in fact – got a company award for my accomplishments in Q4. I’m actually starting to think that a big reason I love my job is because it’s such a great escape…
But when it came to social situations, I’ve made a decision to stop exhausting myself, stop trying so hard, stop inviting when never invited back, stop buying drinks when never offered one back… Just stop trying.
Which leads me to the second learning of this incredibly difficult experience:
Sadness. I felt so sad. The realisation that I’ve been trying very hard for people who didn’t even care, that I cared too much – and they didn’t – wasn’t almost too hard to bear. Some didn’t even notice, some didn’t care enough to ask why I’ve gone so quiet, whilst some actually took it on a offensive. Without wanting to, I’ve managed to put myself in a position when certain things were expected of me, to none of my benefit. Those expectations made me feel anxious and sad, and realising how long I’ve been feeling like this for, made it even worse.
But it wasn’t all that bad. My grandad used to say that tears bring clarity – ‘Cry a little’ – he’d say – ‘You’ll see everything better afterwards’. So I cried, and I felt sad, but luckily, I’ve had amazing people in my life who didn’t need me to make any effort, who didn’t wait for me to message first, who actually asked how I was feeling – and this brings me to my final point:
Gratitude. Despite not making any plans, I’ve been kept busy! Turns out I don’t have to plan things to have fun: my friends stepped up and offered things to do, so I just went with the flow. And I found so much joy in it. The only thing I planned since September was the Christmas meal that got cancelled because of my positive test result – and that’s just a long standing culinary tradition (as well as drinking one) – and it’s postponed for a posh dinner party in 2022 instead. Everything else that happened to me in the last 3 months wasn’t organised by me, and that break is exactly what I needed. I didn’t have to try hard – I just felt loved.
I’m going into New Year knowing how to control my anxiety and keeping my mother out of my head. I’m going into New Year surrounded with fantastic, most supportive friends, and I’ve learned not to chase people who don’t want me around. I’m going into New Year with fantastic plans – very well aware and almost content with the fact that some will be cancelled – but that’s okay. I’m not making these plans to win someone over, I’m making these plans because I know I’ll have fun.
Things are turning around for me. I’m glad you’re here to witness it.
Lots of love,