Happy Samhain to you, dear Readers. It’s the start of a new year-wheel tomorrow, so what better time to eat candy until you’re sick and annoy your neighbors?
I promised to tell you about the incredibly powerful phrase “It makes me tired.” Grab a drink, settle in.
My writing partner is also my best friend, which is incredibly rare. (And, considering that “friend” is not a term I use very lightly, implying as it does a certain level of trust, “best friend” should be read as “someone I would take a knife to the gut for.” Trufax.) We met years ago at a restaurant that has since closed, she brought her husband in case I was a serial killer, and the rest is history. (I was actually charmed that they were both so cautious.)
Anyway, she introduced me to a marvelous phrase, but for the first few years of our friendship, I didn’t fully understand it.
“It makes me tired.”
Of course things make you tired. That’s what things do. Life is, I thought at the time, a never-ending cavalcade of exhausting things you do because you have no choice. I think it probably distressed the Selkie’s tender heart to see me running myself ragged over people who took me for granted, but I didn’t know any better and frankly sometimes don’t take advice gracefully. (SHOCKING, I KNOW.) So she held her peace for a long time, but eventually it was the proper moment to initiate me into the secret of using the phrase.
I can’t remember precisely when–probably during one of our interminable dinners where we get a little tipsy and dish about writing, life, and everything else. But I do remember her explanation.
“Honey,” she said, “you get older, and that means you don’t have the energy for bullshit. You learn to look at bullshit and say ‘It makes me tired‘, and that’s your cue to decide whether you want to spend that damn energy on it.”
I might be paraphrasing. Also, we might both have been a little more than tipsy.
I worked this around in my head for a while. We revisited the conversation many times, and my incomprehension hinged on a very simple thing: I didn’t believe I had a choice about dealing with the sorts of things that made me tired. Like an adulterous mate in perpetual crisis, or a human lamprey just looking to attach itself and drain its victim dry, or a falling-down house and huge financial drains because of someone with a cell phone addiction I felt I had to pay for, or or or…
Slowly, over the course of many years, I began to absorb the idea that my stocks of energy were finite and I could not keep up with the amount of lampreys attached to me siphoning said stocks off. I just couldn’t do it, and though I felt incredibly guilty about my inability, the guilt was better than working myself down to bare frazzled nerves.
In short, boundaries. Which I’d had little trouble applying in my professional life, but the personal was something else.
Eventually, in therapy, “it makes me tired” crystallized. I began to appreciate the lesson my bestie had spent so long patiently offering me.
Yes, as I get older, my stocks of energy diminish. Or, you could just as well say that being an adult means you have a lot of things that are non-negotiable energy drains–rent or a mortgage, food, caring for children, and those things one must do to keep up with the non-negotiable expenditures, AKA, work. Learning to prioritize and cut loose things that were simply draining with no good reason was hard, hard, hard. Again, I was raised to believe the only faint and fading value I had was serving other people’s needs, and that made me a good victim for those (conscious or unconscious) lampreys. As Issendai says, a sick system snares you through your good qualities. A lot of the tendencies I’ve come to value in myself, when allowed too-free sway, turn me into a great battery for a sick system or a person who, wittingly or not, wants to keep me in one.
I’m thirty-seven this year. I do not have time for bullshit in addition to the mortgage, the humans I birthed and am raising, running to keep myself reasonably fit, and the work I do to fund those things and keep me (relatively) sane. (Not to mention the dogs, and the cats, and the cavies.) Yes, there’s bullshit one HAS to tolerate everywhere in life, but part of the marvelousness that is getting older is learning that the shit you outright HAVE to deal with is a lot less than you’d think. (Caveat: I realize I’m in a relatively privileged socioeconomic class. YMMV.) Sometimes I get sucked in, but when I realize I’ve been ambushed, I can hear the Selkie’s voice inside my head.
“Say it with me, Lili: it makes me tired.”
That’s my signal to disengage from the bullshit and spend my energy on other things. Do I still feel guilty? Yes, I do. I also feel guilty that I’m not in contact with various abusers or human lampreys I was once victim to, because I was raised and wired to believe I had to “save” and “help” them. The guilt is, on balance, better than the massive internal devastation I’d have engaging with those people again. I also feel guilty that I can’t engage with a lot of nice, earnest, regular people as much as they (or I) would like me to, but again, that guilt is outweighed by the fact that there is only one of me, and the kids/writing/mortgage need me more than other people, however nice, do. Learning to tolerate that guilt was part of learning to ameliorate the anxiety.
Tolerating that guilt and realizing that it’s not mine, it’s a response built in during my childhood to make it easier to abuse me, is not a perfect or reflexive process yet, but certain things help. “Seriously?” and “It makes me tired” are two of the biggest. Another is just simply refusing to engage…
…but that’s (say it with me) another blog post.
Over and out.