On Non-Emergencies

Little Darling Now that I blazed through proof pages in doublequicktime, I’m curling into myself, like a snail into its shell. I’m capable of tremendous things, but the aftermath of said tremendous things is me wanting to pull away, lock myself in a trunk novel, full-scale retreat.

I still feel a little guilty about taking time to recover. Building that time into my schedule makes me think I’ve gone soft, that I’m heading down the road of Speshul Snoflake-dom. If I’m not firing on all cylinders, working as hard as I possibly can, I feel like a failure. Of course, when I am working as hard as I can, I feel like it’s not good enough. Double bind. I can’t win, even with myself.

I know exactly where this comes from, though. You’d be such a pretty girl if you lost some weight…now eat everything on your plate, we worked hard to get you that food…It’s an A. Well, why isn’t it an A+? You’re so smart, if you’d just apply yourself you’d do better…You’re only book-smart, you’ll never make it on your own…You won’t ever get a husband if you keep using those big words.

You get the idea.

One of the ancillary benefits of therapy has been the finding of “scripts” to answer those memory-voices with.

“I’ll work better, for far longer, if I let myself recover.”
“Nobody’s in danger of dying, this is not a crisis.”
“The world won’t end if I take a few moments to breathe.”
“This may feel overwhelming, but I’m capable of handling it.”

Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but the great secret is merely to have them. I often tell people, “I can put up with anything if I know when it’s going to end,” and this is sort of the same thing. Having a script or two to put into play when you feel overwhelmed and vulnerable provides you with the idea that you have a choice. It may be a completely illusory sense of control, but that illusion can lift a humongous amount of pressure and make plenty of things bearable.

Most of the time, I look back and realize it isn’t illusory. Frex, nobody dies if I don’t get copyedits turned around in 48 hours. But my recognition of my own agency and choice in the matter relieves a lot of pressure, and I can get them done without beating myself up mentally.

A useful side-effect of feeding this particular habit is that the false sense of urgency people might use to pressure me into doing things is becoming easier and easier to spot, because I’m looking for it and have developed the habit of thinking, “well, is this REALLY an emergency?” In a genuine, bonafide emergency, I don’t have time to even ask myself that, because I’m too busy dealing with the blood and screaming. (That’s only a little hyperbole.) Generally, if I even begin to feel like asking myself “Is this REALLY…” it’s a signal for me to slow down and look for the catch, for the agenda, for what’s really important. Sometimes the sense of pressure is completely unconscious, because other people are so caught up it feels like an emergency to them.

Sometimes it’s a conscious choice, a sales tactic or forced teaming. Then it’s time for me to get out of the situation, quickly and ruthlessly. There’s nothing I need badly enough to put up with that shit. Of course, I’ve worked hard to get into a position where I can say that, and I’m lucky to have that luxury. Even if I didn’t, though, it does relieve a lot of pressure and makes me better able to cope if I understand how the other person’s looking to pressure me and asking myself why.

It took about eight months of index cards for the scripts to become a habit. Twice a day, every day, looking at the scripts I’d written down on said index cards, repeating them to myself. After a while they became reflexive. I still get caught up, of course, but far less than I used to. And I find myself needing less time to bounce back after I perform a time-critical task, because I’m not frittering away half my energy on worrying about what will happen if I don’t get it done when ________ says I have to.

Your mileage may vary, all disclaimers apply, etc., etc. But if you’re in the position of feeling constantly overwhelmed, or trapped in a sick system, a couple scripts might help. Also, if you’ve got another strategy that’s worked well for you, if you wouldn’t mind sharing it in comments, I’d love to hear it.

Now I’ve got to get the kids out the door for school, and settle into the rest of my day. I spent the weekend poking at a trunk novel to recover, and now it’s back to work. No rest for the wicked, I guess.

Over and out.

photo by: Helga Weber
  • I often use scripts as well, although I don’t call them that. They’re my truths.
    “You can leave the party early. Your friends will understand.”
    “Being late is not the end of the world.”
    “Stay five more minutes and then if you still feel like you have to leave, then you can.” Usually five minutes turns into ten minutes and so on until I stay the whole time, wherever I may be.

  • One of mine – “Self, it’s time for Time Out.” Meaning, If you don’t do this, your behavior will just escalate into borderline hysteria and cause more damage. Stop. Now.

  • martianmooncrab

    I fell in love with the saying “not my circus, not my monkeys”, its being able to know on what days I am working for the circus, or just there for the performance, and if I have to deal with the Monkeys. Cuz you know I love my Monkeys.

  • Neeta Ahluwalia

    I dont know where else to leave this..but I am so enjoying Selene after a break of some years. Hated the original ending but consoled myself that maybe it indicated a follow on book. I’d happily also contribute $ to that excellent effort through kickstarter or direct! You keep me sane in an insane world. All the best – glad to see you recover(ed)/(ing).

  • Dale Stroble

    I’ve never had a script per se, but I read the following saying many (many!) years ago and have adapted it over and over to match whatever situation I find myself in:

    “An insult is like poison — its only effective if you take it.”

    I’ve found this to be the most succinct, powerful idea I have ever come across. I’ve overcome or endured countless problems by simply repeating this to myself and actively changing the words to fit the situation…

  • naleta

    β€œAn insult is like poison β€” its only effective if you take it.”

    I love that! It encapsulates my method of dealing with the belittlers in the world.

  • Mel Sterling

    My script (and I know you can say it with me!): IT MAKES ME TIRED.

  • Doreen

    I have a “mantra” that I recite to myself whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed with life, and illness, and the many balls that I force myself to juggle:

    “Calm my mind and my heart, and heal my body.”

    I recite this to myself whenever I rest – whenever my heart rate accelerates; whenever the hostiles are closing in; whenever I’m about to walk into a scary situation – pretty much every day, multiple times. Rest is critical for not only my mental sanity, but also my physical disabilities. I believe that stress manifests itself in the body, and my multiple diseases are a consequence of the sh– I have gone through for most of my 49 years of life.

    “Calm my mind and my heart, and heal my body.” for me, it says everything that I need.