‘Selfish’ and other swear words

Mental Health

Here’s a hard pill to swallow: I’m not interested in how amazing your life is. I don’t care how many novels you’ve written in the time I’ve been trying to write one, how great your boyfriend is, or how your wonderful holiday was. Getting ready to call me bitter and a terrible friend? Hear me out first.

In hindsight, these past few months feel like some sort of sick social experiment I was playing on myself. It began by being bullied into joining a group chat with everyone on my course, to ‘keep in the loop!’ and ended with me having a breakdown over my Twitter feed. I’ll slow down, shall I? Let’s really walk you through why I’ve come to the end of my tether.

It’s a tough truth to learn, but sometimes people don’t always have your best interests at heart. Sometimes people will do things (inadvertently, often not because they’re the devil incarnate) to undermine you, because it makes them feel better, somehow. Whether people realise they’re doing this or not is not the point – the fact is, we all do it, or have done it at some point. But it has to stop.

This isn’t an attack, trust me, because I have been one of these people. Remember that girl who did really well in your high school English lit exam, and came out on results day asking everyone else what they’d got because she knew she’d beaten them? Yeah, that was probably me (or some other weedy, bushy-haired lookalike). But then, you know… I kind of grew up. Even now, I’ve had so many big things I’d love to announce to the world – on Facebook or Twitter or something – but not because I really want to. Just because my successes don’t feel like successes anymore if I’m not sharing them publicly.

Anyway – back to the story: the worst writing months of my life. I’m usually very committed to my writing; I treat it like a job; I set goals and targets and I sit down and write every single day. Yet, over these last few months (months!!) I’ve likely only sat down to write about five or six times.

“Why?” I hear you cry. Well, reader, because of the pressure.

The pressure that isn’t usually there, because I’m not usually so obsessed with what everyone else is doing. It started with the damn group chat, where people (wonderful people, who I imagine just genuinely wanted to support and share with each other) would post how many words they’d written, how many great writing days they’d had, etc… But then, when there weren’t messages waiting for me on my phone to tell me that everyone else had done more work than me, I was compulsively checking Twitter to see what everyone else was doing. Are they writing today? Does that mean I should be writing today?

I watched everyone else’s word counts climb up to our 40,000 goal, ready for our September deadline, and I was stuck on 12,000. I was hurt that some of the people so willing to remind me how well they were doing knew how well I wasn’t. The rest of my peers were swimming off ahead, and I was just bobbing on the surface, fighting to keep my mental health, university work, two jobs and finances afloat. Soon, I was drowning. And even when I reached out to peers and reminded them that hey, I’m not actually doing that well, I think I’m going to go AWOL for a bit and just focus on me, I was in turn reminded of how selfish that decision was.

So here’s my plea: can we stop considering it selfish to, uh, focus on yourself? In fact, scratch that, let’s call it selfish if that’s what it is. Maybe it’s not a bad word like we’ve been pretending it is. But don’t demonise people for wanting to take care of themselves. I’ve lost months of writing time, right before my deadline, because I allowed myself to care so deeply about everyone else’s successes. I had forgotten one very important thing:

People rarely post their failures online.

It’s true, right? Let’s take this out of a creative setting for a moment, and just all focus on our Facebook timelines: on all the wonderful things happening in everyone’s life. Sure, sometimes, we get something a little more truthful, but most of my time is spent scrolling through everyone’s vibrant successes and allowing myself to forget that these people must have other things going on. We do it all the time, but let’s be real: nobody’s life is that absolutely cracking all the time.

I don’t think this is the fault of our friends and family. I think we’ve been conditioned to behave this way. It often feels like (fight me on this because it’s true) if something isn’t posted publicly, it doesn’t really count.

Why did I type and retype and then delete the I have an agent now! status that I really wanted to share with my friends and family? Because I knew how self-centred it sounded, and although it was something I’d worked really hard to achieve, I kind of thought that maybe people would think I was just lucky or that I didn’t deserve it (Imposter Syndrome, much?). Which, hey, might’ve been true. But I could have shared that status and made the rest of my writer friends feel like shit, if I wanted to. I didn’t. You know why? Everyone that I wanted to tell could be contacted either by phone or face-to-face.

This is a hard point to argue, because there are certain things that we want to share on social media because it’s important to us, we don’t have any other way to contact people, we need to promote something, etc… I have nothing against it. Hey, I love seeing pictures of your new babies. Your beautiful weddings. The picture of your first book, shiny and fresh off the print – really, I love it. But I think we can all tell when someone is just boasting, brass and insensitive, about everything they’ve achieved. We can just tell.

I’ve come in circles a bit here, so maybe this is more of a rant than a post with a goal, and I’m sorry for that. But this is my PSA: I have to focus on myself now if I want to achieve my own goals. It’s doing me no good reading about how great your life is, for the time being anyway. The frustrating thing is, I know certain people are jealous and bitter and are literally trying to make me feel this way, and I know I’ve kind of let them win by wasting all of this time obsessing over how far ahead of me they are. But not anymore, pal. We all need to be more selfish once in a while, and take time to take care of ourselves, first.

The era of bragging is over. There are exceptions, of course, and sharing your success and allowing others to celebrate with you is rarely a bad thing (in fact, it’s a beautiful thing). But boasting for the sake of bringing yourself up and everyone else down is, to be frank, really bloody nasty.

Be kind, be creative, be selfish once in a while.

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One thought on “‘Selfish’ and other swear words

  1. Hi Beth, really sorry to hear you have been having a tough time. You are an amazing person. Sending you a big hug and the promise of our prayers. Lots of love from Sue and Andrew xxx

    Liked by 1 person

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