“Guilt” | noun | definition:
“Feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy”
Why do we impose guilt ourselves? It’s a torturous self-infliction brought on by the words in our head. The words that say “you’re not good enough”, that “you’re messing it all up”, that “you’ve made a massive mistake” and worst that “everyone is suffering because of your decisions”
It can be a nasty lingering feeling from one day, to an all-consuming black presence the next. A presence that doesn’t give you a warning, or send a memo before it arrives. A presence that shows up, unannounced, and uses its squatters rights to stay and niggle inside your head for as long as it likes.
Only a special, strong frame of mind can make it go away, or at least help bar the windows and close the doors so it can’t enter so easily. Unfortunately, for me – and I suspect mothers as a whole – this special mind frame is not always something easy to erect or maintain when juggling a world of new scary pressures.
From the terrifying newborn phase, to the trials of breastfeeding, to the horrific world of sleep, to returning – or not returning – to work, to weaning, to being a good partner, to having a second child, to being “selfish” and having some “me time” – these are pressures that can cause that special frame of mind to buckle and bend, and in many instances come crashing down altogether.
It’s no secret that I’ve dealt with a lot of guilt since becoming a mother – particularly in relation to returning to work and living abroad away from family. It niggled me most of last year, hitting an absolute low point in October when I sat and cried thick blubbery wet tears because I hadn’t made my one-year-old a Halloween costume (like he even cared! Such self-imposed grief! Seriously, why?!)
I have a terrible way of internalizing the small things until they come out as one major problem. And I internalized the extent of the guilt that I was feeling, until around the start of this year I noticed that my senses and excitement levels were, I would say, considerably dulled. I was happy, except I wasn’t. For some reason I had stopped doing the things I loved – reading, listening to music, yoga – I was like a zombie getting through each week. All I could feel or see was guilt, whichever way I turned, and I knew something had to be done to bring vitality back into my life.
So I decided to tackle the guilt by making some life changes. In effect killing three birds with one stone, I resigned from my position at work, flew back to the UK for an extended break to spend time with family, and most importantly I gave my son some much needed Mummy love and attention. Now that’s not to say that work was the source of all the problems – far from. It was just the thing that was easiest to change. The result has been great! I’ve felt great!
But recently, that oh so familiar black presence has started to move in. My honeymoon period in the UK is over, and I find myself back in Dubai with a bang. A bang that has exploded in my head, splintering the positive frame that I’ve worked so hard to achieve recently, with words that keep telling me “I am not contributing enough”, that “I don’t earn enough”, that “I’m putting too much financial pressure on my husband” and that leaving my (very good) job was a “highly selfish act”.
But it wasn’t a selfish act. Yes, I did it to relieve my guilt, but I also did it for the benefit of my family. After several great years there I was also ready to move on and try something new by going out on my own. I AM working and earning, though just not as much yet. It’s a win-win situation. So again, I have to ask, why? Why do it when whatever I do seems to be wrong anyway?
The grass is always greener, as they say. I really need to accept that there is no such thing as perfect! There are pros and cons to everything, and there is no harm in making a brave leap now and again. Life decisions can sometimes be majorly fruitful in the long run, right?
That’s why the negative thoughts are stopping. NOW!
They’re going to be re-replaced with all the positive thoughts I had about the whole adventure in the first place. The thoughts that tell me that simply being present (and I mean mentally present, living life in the moment), that being happy and healthy, and full of vitality and love and playfulness for the sake of my family is worth way more than anything of monetary value can provide (even if it is fancy trips to the Maldives).
I need to accept my life and all its opportunities AND limitations. I need to remember that I CAN do it all if I want to, but that actually I don’t WANT to do it all. I want to savour life and cherish the childhood years and look back with happy memories rather than regret. This is the LIFE choice that I need to embrace.
So to the black presence that has been lingering over me, to you I say this – DO ONE! You’re not welcome, and I will not let you tear down what I have done so well to achieve.
Guilt is not a conscious choice. It will find its way in regardless, but that doesn’t mean we need to collect and carry it wherever we go. It truly doesn’t do anyone any favours and we – mothers especially – need to keep it at bay. We’re far too prone to becoming martyrs of our “all or nothing” society.
But we don’t need to.
I’ll drop the guilt if you will too. Are you with me?
“If with me you’ll fondly stray, over the hills and far away”