Today's post marks an inaugural exchange that I'll continue to cultivate: that of the classic "Dear Abby/Sugar*/Lauren" column. Our first willing participant, Desperately Seeking, emailed me and the response that spewed forth will, I hope, be helpful to those of you who have also had some experience hitting your Success Ceiling on your way to the Gloriousness That Already Is. Hey lady,
So I'm finding myself stuck back in this really annoying pattern that I just can't break, and thought some outside advice would help, if you have any. Every time - every single time - things start to come together, my creative juices are flowing, kickass opportunities come my way, I get sick. I get laid low with a stinking cold or flu, and it takes me weeks to get my energy levels back up.
At first, I thought it was because I wasn't eating properly, then because it seemed to happen whenever I was in the radio studio so maybe I'd picked up some germs from the grotty BBC microphones, but I'm coming off the back of a serious self-care weekend, my eating patterns are good & healthy, I'm exercising, I'm doing all the right things - I've even dropped a few obligations that were stressing me out. I should be feeling primed and ready to go. And yet? I feel achey and shivery and all the warning signs that I'm about to get sick again.
It has to be psychological, right? Has this happened to anyone else you know, or am I a bacteria-riddled freak? It was literally as soon as all these awkward little bits of my life fell into place that I started to feel rotten. My love has a new job that she's psyched about, I just got a regular, decently-paying writing gig for a huge publisher's websites, my dad just waived the ridiculous amount of money I owe him and I'm this close to my target dress size.
I can tackle the mental self-sabotage, but what do I do when my body starts ganging up on me?
Yours in possibly germy desperation,
Here's my reply:
Girl. First- you are awesome. I get shivers (not the germy kind) from the energy in your email.
Writing gigs? Check! Creative flow? Check. Xtreme self care and foxy bod to go with? Check and check. Even the psychic weight of no longer owing a loved one money? Literal checks!!!!
So methinks it could be psychosomatic- (I am no doctor and do not dispense medical advice) so I have a couple questions for ya:
When was the first time you were firing all systems go and then your health flagged? Do you remember?
Write about it.
When I was a kid I was a pretty decent swimmer. I was on the summer swim team and did well in my age group even tho I was brand new.
But getting up on those blocks around all those people freaked me out. I remember being so worked up and nervous that I made myself SICK (to my stomach) and had to bow out of the swim meet. I was terrified of failure and making a fool of myself (in a swimsuit at age 9) and I was afraid of success. (In front of all those people. In a swimsuit!)
In middle school I was on the track team. I was frequently top three at meets in the high jump but when it came to the 800 and mile I was uber scared of not winning and...looking silly. So one day instead of finishing the mile race I ran off the track and at least another 400m (maybe even 600!?) ALL THE WAY to the school building and convinced myself and my coach that I was sick. Clearly I looked foolish (I could have completed the race instead of running to the bathroom in shame)- but to my middle school brain and heart taking myself out of the running was easier than trying my best and winning OR losing.
This pattern continued throughout my athletic career until I realized something about WHY I do things and then move on: I wasn't there to win or be the best. I was there to experience and learn and then do something else. I also had some weird shit to deal with about performance anxiety.
Which brings me to my point: I needed to learn some things in order to be ok with doing my best and not being attached to the outcome AND without psyching myself out before I even got started.
Here's what's I've got from those lessons:
1. I needed at least to challenge the part of me that was averse to finishing- the part of me that resisted bringing things to completion.
I had to (and still do) notice that I am a starter/innovator/idea generator and better at coming up with stuff and then passing it on to someone else to execute and that's ok but over time I have realized that flexing my finisher muscle is reallllly good for me and for my ego.
You've embarked on this journey woman. What happens if you complete this round?
2. I had to get comfy with the spotlight and with being seen. Sometimes when we perceive that we are about to excel (this often occurs when we have lost weight and look different, and when we have received public accolades) we suddenly want to shrink and hold ourselves back. No wonder! It feels totally weird to suddenly be in the spotlight as our brand-new shiny self because we're not used to it it's uncomfortable. It also means people will expect more success from us!
Getting sick could be your way of avoiding the spotlight that you know is coming/already arrived.
If you need some info on owning the spotlight, read this to start.
3. There's another piece here that deserves examination, it's that everything we do we have to be the best at doing. What if it's suddenly okay to be just okay? A lot of creatives think that they are special, gifted, anointed. But what that does is create an unnecessary expectation around your achievement (and often keeps us from starting That Which We Know We Must Do).
It is totally okay to suck.
It is okay to be mediocre.
It is okay to live what others would term an unremarkable life.
Now I know that that is not what you desire. But how would letting go of the expectation allow you to move into your immensely successful creative life with more ease?
A note on routines/chores that form the backbone of creative awesomeness: Sometimes we use our self designation as artist or creative to avoid doing the work of daily life. To avoid being rigorous in our discipline so that we can be wildly creative in our hearts and crafts. Where are you shirking your duty to do the daily rounds of doing the dishes, making your bed, asking for help, reaching out to others, being of service and otherwise participating in the quotidian humdrum boring part of daily life?
You may be an artist and a creative on the brink of explosion in a good way, but you also still operate by the laws of the universe. No doubt you can make magic when you choose to; the challenge is not to expect the rest of the world to make magic for you and to do the regular old mundanity that supports your wild creativity.
4. Finally, I have found that I create illness whenever I need a reason to make a massive change. I'm not saying that this case for you, but I noticed that we often create untenable situations in order to force our own hand.
When I was working a really shit-tastic retail job I was on my feet all the time. I was supposed to be the buyer for this amazing women's store, but when I arrived they would not let me do anything other than help ladies pick out clothing and take it to the fitting room and then back to the store floor. In other words, it was completely stifling and a waste of my gifts.
Instead of just saying, "Hey guys this doesn't really work for me, peace out," I instead cultivated planter fasciitis. It got so bad that I couldn't even walk to my car from my house. Clearly if I couldn't walk I couldn't work retail. How convenient.
Is any part of you cultivating illness to avoid making a decision proactively? Only you can answer that. You have my love my support and just thank you for asking that question, I really appreciate it. And please reach out whenever you need something.
*Dear Sugar was a column popular on therumpus.com. It's now an amazing book. I read it before I go to bed. My heart breaks and then glows with the goodness that is possible in the hearts of other humans. Please read it.