Embracing Challenge

I feel like a trope. I am a living, breathing sitcom joke. The way I push back against household chores or actual paying work is the stuff of bad television shows. My habit of making things “have tos” permeates everything.

I have a task at the moment and a deadline of ASAP. I worked hard on it last week and through the weekend. I set aside my cycling for mental health goals because I “have to” do this work. My jaw has been tight for four days. Things that may bring pleasure or any self-care ideas are only fuel for shame. I should be done with my work already so that I can enjoy myself.

Like a cancer, my mind absorbs the joyful things and makes them “have-tos.” Rather than enjoying a dog walk in nature and relaxing with the bird songs and the breeze on my face, the walk becomes something I must do. Like the star of an 80's sitcom, I hate my job and it has made me bitter about everything.

There are layers here. I do have some sense of them. I am afraid of failure. Procrastination and frustration come from the same place, shame. I have been taught that shame is a motivator. Thinking “I cannot enjoy myself until I finish my work” is supposed to motivate me to finish. However, it just demoralizes me. I have done it for 40+ years and gotten comfortable with the narrative that I do not deserve enjoyment or success.

If I see work and tasks as “have-tos” I can project my emotions onto others like a boss or a family member. I will imagine that they are disappointed with me. Once again, it is shame.

My mind turning everything into a “have-to” means I will not experience any unfamiliar emotions. I could not handle experiencing happiness after completing a task and then failing a different task the next day. This wall, a guard I cannot let down protects me from disappointment in myself. The hills and valleys of a natural, emotional life are too jarring for me. I'd rather stay in the valley, it is predictable.

In this way, I avoid embracing challenges and feeling accomplished when I overcome them. The cancer of shame taints everything and I become robotic. I am singularly focused on finishing work. If I meet a deadline, I feel as if I miscalculated my estimated time and feel shame for that.

There is a glimmer of something else in art. In the process of painting, creating and shaping my artwork I feel hope. I see joy. I let go of perfectionism. Shame will poke its head into my artwork. Shame tries to compromise with me and tries to convince me to make art a hustle. Sell your artwork. To do that you must produce more, daily. Yet, it does not ooze its way into the actual process. There, I enjoy the challenge.

It's a difficult balance. There are things that “have-to” be done. There are legitimate reasons to set aside art, like a paycheck. Those genuine needs are where shame thrives. You are not doing enough and do not deserve the hope and joy of art. Get back to work. Biologically, this is a group of neurons that have created a super highway within my brain. “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” The plasticity of the brain is well documented and change is possible. Unfortunately, it will not happen overnight and I call it a super highway because those neurons have wired together 40+ years. Time will be necessary for healing. Shame will always live within my mind. It would be nice if I could trim that super highway into a rural road, though. Perhaps accepting and embracing challenges is one way to do that.