A few of my friends here in the English department have made a pact to quit apologizing. At least not for little things that don’t merit apology, like taking “too many” turns in a class discussion or having to re-schedule a coffee date. Every time one of them apologizes, she gets a (gentle) punch in the arm.
Their pact reminds me of several of my own friends and family who chastised me at various points in my life for “apologizing too much.”
Partly I think it’s a gendered thing–we as women have a bad habit of excusing our own existence. But I don’t think it’s just that. I know many people, men and women, who struggle with feelings of inadequacy and guilt.
Of all emotions, I experience guilt perhaps more than any other. I’m constantly kicking myself for “screwing up” and silently vowing to “do better next time.” If, heaven forbid, I make the same “mistake” (actual or imagined) again, the guilt is all the worse.
I’ve been meditating on guilt today, odd as it might sound, because of my IBS symptoms. See, when I’m having a bad tummy day, every time I eat, even if only a very reasonable or even pretty small amount, I feel like I way overate. Like I’ve had Thanksgiving dinner and went back for seconds on everything. It feels awful. And at one point in my life, I was convinced that I was overeating and vowed to never, ever let myself eat past the point of fullness or even, eventually, to the point of fullness. I punished myself for feeling this way by exercising whenever I could find the time, and when I couldn’t find the time, I felt oh-so guilty about that. Every decision I made about how to “take care of” my body was motivated by guilt.
I don’t know if it’s the fructose I re-introduced at the end of last week, but my tummy’s been giving me Hell today. I also wasn’t able to go to the gym as I had been planning because I found out our rec wasn’t offering spin at the same time as they used to. So inevitably, it’s back: sitting in class after grabbing a quick snack, that horrible two-Thanksgiving-dinner sensation starts to kick in, followed by ruthless guilt.
What do I feel guilty about? My anorexic days are eighteen months gone. I know what a healthy, normal amount of food is. I know my weight is stable, and I never step on the scale, anyway.
But it’s not really about that, of course. It never was. It’s about feeling that I’ve messed up, made a “mistake,” can’t do anything right–not even eat.
If I hadn’t been in this mindset two years ago, I might have recognized that something was up with my body that wasn’t normal, and most certainly wasn’t my fault. And I might have taken better care of myself.
“I haven’t graded those papers”
“I haven’t spent enough of my weekend studying”
“I still haven’t sent that letter to my grandpa”
rather than celebrating the fact that I am, in my ways, living my dream.
“I wrote a really good paper about important stuff that matters in the world.”
“I got a fellowship to go to graduate school in an awesome town, in a beautiful state, with awesome people.”
“I taught a really good lesson, and my students really enjoyed it.”
“I had a great night out with friends and got a good break from studying.”
We need to let our joys guide our lives. When we don’t, we lose sight of what matters.
Thanks to Amanda for the Thinking Out Loud linkup.
Do you ever struggle with guilt?