It’s been a bit of a crummy week. I’ve been steadily feeling more and more depressed, irritable, and generally miserable to be around. The ironic thing is that I’ve been getting more rest and exercise – but that just goes to show that those things are only two of the many components involved in my mental health.
One of the things I’ve noticed is that my inner critic is back in full force. But my inner critic isn’t a single voice – it’s a whole committee. My Committee consists of a group of voices, not literally, but voices that each contribute something particular to the constant (negative) chatter in my head. I’ve learned that if I pay close attention, I can pick out the different members of my Committee, especially the ones that are most contributing to my internal dialogue.
It’s no surprise that my mom is on the Committee. She pretty much heads up the whole thing. Despite the fact that she has limited experience in life (as do we all), she provides feedback on everything – from what I wear, to social etiquette, to dog training, to the kind of eggs to use in baking. If you need to know the “right” way to do something, just ask Mom. Or better yet – don’t bother asking. She’ll volunteer it anyway.
The Perfect Mom is on my Committee as well. As expected, she comments whenever I’m doing something that a “perfect mom” wouldn’t do. She also has plenty of suggestions for things that I’m not doing, but should be doing, for my kids. When my oldest was a baby, this voice was deafening. I should be doing a baby massage every night (when I could barely stand to get through a feeding). I should be doing “mommy and me” classes. She should be learning Mandarin and listening to classical music and playing with intellectual toys. I shouldn’t be having such a hard time connecting with her. It was exhausting. And this voice is back now, too, with plenty of thoughts on what the kids should be doing during the summer, and how I’ve let them down by not doing swim lessons every year, and so on.
One of the voices is Melissa, a girl I knew in middle school. She had been my best friend for years before she decided in 8th grade that I wasn’t “cool.” Not only that, but she convinced the rest of the 18 kids in our class that they should ostracize me too. So Melissa’s voice on the Committee tells me that I will never fit in, that I’m a social misfit, that my conversations with other people are awkward, that no one would ever want to be friends with me.
It seems ridiculous to give such an important role to a girl I haven’t spoken to in 28 years… but there it is.
There are other people on the committee but I haven’t identified all of their voices yet. In time I’m sure I will uncover more of them.
When I first told my therapist about my Committee, she asked if one of the voices was a cheerleader. I replied that no, I knew cheerleaders in high school but none of them had a particular role on my Committee. It turns out that my therapist wasn’t asking about actual pom-pom type cheerleaders (oops). She was asking about people who supported me and encouraged me – in other words, people who provided a positive voice.
Um… no… we don’t do positive voices in my head.
There are times when my Committee is operating at a low level, with some noise from the boardroom but nothing constant or terribly intense. Then there are other times when the Committee is raging, in full session, and the clamor from it is dizzying. That’s how I’ve felt the past few days.
I think the voices have been building bit by bit over the past couple of weeks, and now they’ve hit maximum intensity. The good news is that I can identify what’s happening. I can also identify a trigger this week that probably set my Committee into dizzying mode.
My 7 year old daughter E has camp this week, and on the first day, I drove a nervous E to camp, only to realize that I had left at home the 14 documents necessary for admission. In the end, I went back for the paperwork, signed her in, and she wasn’t overly late – but the guilt and shame at my mistake were palpable. I was reminded of those lead aprons that are laid on you when you get X-rays. A lead apron of guilt and shame. Yuck.
I thought I was managing my feelings about the mistake reasonably well, but suddenly it was 8 hours later and I was in a foul, irritable mood, feeling rotten about myself. I suppose it probably seems obvious that an event like that could set into motion a whole tornado of self-criticism and negative self-talk. And it’s literally like a tornado – whipping winds that suck in everything around it. So it may have started with my mistake in forgetting the paperwork, but then my whole Committee was called into session – and everything I do is assaulted and criticized. A no-holds-barred mental whiplashing. All day long and even into night – when my sleep is interrupted because I’m tearing my hair out. Literally. (Doesn’t that just make you cringe? You and me both.)
So my Committee is in session and I need to fight it. I need to come up with some positive voices to counteract all of the negative ones.
It’s time to add some new people to my Committee. Any suggestions?