One of the problems with self-help advice (and, yes, I know, this blog is chock full of self-help advice) is that it assumes there’s a lot of things you should do to help yourself. And it’s true. There’s a lot of things you can do to help yourself.
But it also starts to make us feel like it’s all on us. If anything goes wrong, we must have done something to deserve it. Maybe we didn’t work hard enough. Or have the right attitude. Or maybe we weren’t taking good enough care of ourselves. Maybe we didn’t lean in, or lean out, enough.
Some things in life are our fault. But lots of things in life are systemic or random. And we don’t need to beat ourselves up about them.
I’m sick, again. I have something that is almost certainly my gallbladder, but we haven’t worked out what it is yet. On top of that (and possibly because of that, with all the trips to hospitals), I got a sore throat, lost my voice… and then got whooping cough. (Yes, whooping cough is back. Get immunised.)
The first thing my partner said was, ‘Well of course you are sick. You haven’t been getting enough rest’. That’s my usual behaviour and it’s a script we jump straight into: I’m sick, because I haven’t taken enough care of myself.
But this time it wasn’t true. I’ve been working reasonable hours. Getting enough sleep. When I’ve been ill, I’ve taken time off to recouperate. I’ve been walking a lot, eating healthily, catching up with friends and family. I’ve been happy, dancing around the room for no reason happy.
I’ve taken weekends, and holidays. I said ‘no’ to some writing opportunities because I wanted to protect my time. I’m on top of my work and building up a team who I can delegate to. I’m going home at a sensible time most evenings.
I am sick, not because of stress or diet or lifestyle choice. I’m sick because something went wrong with my body. I am sick, because that’s one of the things that happens to bodies, sometimes.
I am lucky to live in an age when it’s unlikely I’ll die from any of my illnesses. I’ll take my antibiotics and my painkillers, and turn up for my appointments for ultrasounds, gastroscopies, and if necessary surgery. I was immunised against whooping cough, so it’s much less severe than it would have been. I have generous sick leave cover, and can stay at home getting better without worrying about making ends meet. I live right round the corner from a fantastic public hospital, and I have supportive GPs. My partner, my family and friends have rallied round and are providing soup, DVDs, get well soon wishes. I’m grateful for it all.
I’m also lucky to be able to step back and say: not everything that happens to me is all on me. It’s kind of scary, but it’s also liberating. Maybe I am not the ‘master of my fate’; but I am still the ‘captain of my soul‘. I can ask for help, take my doctor’s advice, avoid infecting others, take my pills. That’s enough.
When things go wrong for you, ask yourself: Is this on me? Make sure you aren’t blaming yourself for things that aren’t your fault. Just work on doing what you can with what you can. That is plenty. That is more than enough.