I’m working late tonight running some data conversions and while I’m waiting I’m working on editing some practice choral tracks. The choir I’m singing with is doing There is Peace; the SATB adult part of the choir joins up with the children’s choir a practice or two before the community concert. I sat in on last weekend’s children’s choir to record it and sang my bass part along with them and a few of the altos and sopranos who have kids in the choir. I’m sitting here tonight worrying some tricky bits in this data conversion and growling when the data export didn’t work. While waiting for some processing to finish, I loaded this track to edit and took a listen and felt my spirits lift far above the noise of a bit of tricky data. I’ve really been quite fortunate to have this experience with the choir.
A friend of mine, who often suffers from depression, today posted a plea on social media for people to tell him why they cared about him. It offered an interesting moment of introspection because I’m pretty sure the words he uses to talk to himself in those times are very similar to the words I’ve been using in my own head. I said a few kind words but pointed out that my words to him are mostly meaningless. And so are the words in his head. They’re just stories from a primitive spot in our brain that’s trying to save us from potentially life-threatening mistakes. He, and I, can change those stories when we are mindful of the fact that very little of what our brain tells us in those times is true.
Now I’ve identified this problem of failure (which is totally normal and can be handled quite well in small doses) and its cumulative affect I’m noticing it everywhere. I went to a small concert tonight, saw a great act. These things usually inspire me and I typically resist that “I can never be good enough” feeling; I can be inspired to improve to what I can be even if I never get to the level of a gifted performer. And yet, tonight, I’m feeling utterly flat. I recognize, intellectually, what is going on (at least, I think I do) but my emotional train has left the station leaving the logical part standing forlorn at the platform. I’m thinking, despite myself, that there is a way through. With a little care and good emotional hygiene I’ll find it.
While exploring this whole idea of failure as akin to pneumonia I also came to a self-realization that I was, well contagious. I was forwarding it on to other things and people. The job, my partner, my colleagues. I’d have a vague inkling that it wasn’t their fault and I’d feel bad, guilty, ashamed, and then take it all back on as another failure. Which turned the failure pneumonia into double pneumonia with a helping of scarlet fever on top. None of that is helpful. The only way to deal with this is personally and constructively. Yes, the job has some demands that make failures inevitable. My partner and I disagree, and sometimes that may seem like a failure. But preventing those day-to-day “failures” from becoming full blown psychological damage is entirely on me. That realization is pretty exciting because it means I have some hope of controlling the degree of the infection.
I realized, over the last few mornings, that I often wake up thinking about what a failure I am, or how stupid I am. Nothing even has to have happened yet. I may have gone to bed feeling great. And yet, there it is, unbidden. Emotional First Aid likens failure to a cold, something we get all the time and throw off with a bit of rest. If we don’t take care of ourselves we can end up with emotional pneumonia. It is an apt analogy. To wake up every morning afraid of one’s upcoming failures is pretty depressing. The good news is that I’m now aware of it. Ironically, perhaps, that’s a success!
I’m struggling mightily with failure this week. Some difficult work challenges, some stressors around home. As a result, every little things feels like a massive failure. A small bug in some code is clear indication of my incompetence. My partner disagreeing with me feels like complete rejection. I feel like a total fraud doing demos at work. Playing music feels the same; I’ve never really been good enough. It creates a vicious cycle because you grow to expect it, you don’t try as hard, you look for reasons for self criticism. And in the ultimate fail, I didn’t recognize how bad it had become.
PS I’m reading Emotional First Aid right now, and will share a few insights on this topic.