Self-sacrifice in pursuit of the ‘Greater Good’ is lauded, admired, and upheld as a standard to which individuals aspire. Proof of selflessness is evident in long hours, deprivation, danger, and a ‘can-do’ spirit, generally in the face of significant adversity. Images that come to mind include the White Hat Brigade in Syria, the Royal Boat Rescue in the UK, individuals as rescuers, after tsunamis/earthquakes/fires/eruptions… People step up. And the world would be a more horrifying place if they didn’t.
That’s not the type of self-sacrifice I’m talking about here. No. I’m talking about the painful, unhelpful habit we human beings have of thwarting our own mental and physical health by refusing to acknowledge personal needs, unmet in the process of living. There’s always a variety of reasons for the unwillingness to acknowledge personal need and some of these reasons include negative core belief(s), dysfunctional family systems, religious dogma, guilt, addiction(s), maladaptive social skills, cognitive distortions, hyper-developed sense of responsibility… the list is as long as the individuals who habitually sacrifice themselves on the altar of self-denial.
I started thinking about this after reading a post on Facebook by Jewel Flanagan (she’s family) and shared with her permission…
I’ve been thinking *warning, wordiness to follow* Musing about how I’ve lived with depression and/ or anxiety my whole life. How at times the beast has clamoured for my very life, and at other times seems sated. Looking for patterns. Today I don’t feel either of their claws pulling me down. Why? What is different?
I’ve suffered worse after having my babies. When a messy house gives me anxiety and depression keeping me from gathering the ability to clean…. things tend to spiral out of control. Somehow I’m still afloat, no, I’m flying. I haven’t felt so ‘normal’ since I was a child.
I think it’s the books. I’m reading (and listening to) books. Voraciously consuming stories. Hearing the thoughts of other people, not just watching them play acting on a screen.
What happened to me? What happened to the child who read so much her teachers had to re-define their projects and scales because it wasn’t fair to the other children? Why did I stop reading? My book shelf became a mausoleum and reading just something I used to do. Before I had kids, before I worked all the time, before my workload at school became too heavy; before I became depressed.
There are novels on my shelf I never got around to reading, bought somewhere between high school and last year. Then I bought Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson last year. I had hoped it was a stand alone book, a one and done. So I wouldn’t have to commit to a whole world as is common in epic fantasy books. Instead I committed to a whole ‘cosmere’ 😂
I’ve spent the last three months soaking in Sanderson’s various books and worlds. I ran out and started listening to YA books I had purchased for my kids. My oldest is 8. Yeah, we all know who I bought those for. 276 hours of listening since [Baby] was born. iPad propped on the table, the counter, the floor, opening doors into worlds unknown or revisiting worlds I explored long ago. Fantasy gets a bad rap for being ‘escapist’, but it’s helping me live my life fully [emphasis added].
Am I self medicating with books? I don’t know. Maybe my depression is lifting on its own and letting me get back to myself. 🤔 I hope it can get me through ‘the weeping’. Vit D and books sounds good to me.
This is a very articulate woman, trying to rescue herself from postpartum depression after baby #5 – she’s got experience happening here. I don’t know about you, but whether one or five babies, “stay-at-home-parent” defines the concept of self-sacrifice. But that necessary ~ and self- chosen ~ reality can create a much darker internal space that feels like the virtual annihilation of a separate, individual sense of identity.
For working parents, the catalyst may be a little different, but the guilt and emotional angst result in almost the same behaviours~denial of the need of the Self for emotional & mental rejuvenation, guilt-free pleasure, pleasant sensory input, and clear, marked edges to the “I/Thou” boundary.
Lest you think this is a parenting post, let me hasten to assure you that this denial of Self is common. Really, really common. For instance, let me ask you, the reader, “When was the last time you did something for yourself, by choice, initiated by you, required the cooperation of no one else, felt rejuvenating and pleasurable, and induced no guilty feelings afterward?”
I’ll just wait right here while you try to remember.
Our culture worships workaholics. We’re a meritocracy with the collective delusion about being ‘self-made.’ That we ‘haul ourselves up by the bootstraps,’ and we’re absolutely committed to the value that ‘success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.’ We don’t love or laud do-nothings, or individuals ‘finding themselves,’ and we question the work ethic of hippies (while secretly envying their apparent ability to live counter to the rat-race we currently inhabit).
We learn early and well that doing things for ourselves just because we enjoy it is somehow unacceptably selfish. It’s okay to read voraciously in grade four, or seven, but that gets a bit suspicious in grade ten. Apparently, there are other, more productive things that could be done other than reading Lord of the Rings…again.
Internal landscapes sickened by the demands of the external world and of adulting. Being grown up is really not all that fun. Of course, the message is, it’s not supposed to be. What is it Kenny Loggins wrote?
Been working so hard
I’m punching my card
Eight hours for what?
Oh, tell me what I got
I’ve got this feeling
That time’s just holding me down
You’re playing so cool, obeying every rule
Deep way down in your heart
You’re burning, yearning for the some-somebody to tell you
That life ain’t passing you by
I’m trying to tell you
It will if you don’t even try*
What have you stopped doing to be ‘grown up?’ Did you quit reading for pleasure when the textbooks happened? When did you stop carrying your camera everywhere? How long since you drew/painted/designed/built something? Read the print edition newspaper sitting by yourself at the local coffee shop? Took yourself to see a movie? Rode your bike over the curb and through someone’s yard? Got out your skateboard? Called a friend and went for a hike/bike/snowshoe/ski/run/whatever for the sheer joy of being active?
What difference would it make to you TODAY to go and do something you used to love to do but haven’t done for ages?
Taking care of our mental, emotional, and psychological state allows us to continue to be productive, relational, and healthy. How could that not be a good thing?
Think about it. I’ll be over here lost in the world of Pern and its dragonriders.**
*Footloose (lyrics/music by Kenny Loggins)
**World of Pern Series (Anne McCaffrey)