Not everyone is as lucky as I am. In the last couple of days I've had some reminders that my life scores pretty high on the awesome scale, all things considered. It's not easy, but I have had (and continue to have) a range of experiences, and a degree of freedom, that most people never get to enjoy. I know some interesting and amazing people (some of whom I even get to call "friend" without it being a reference to Facebook or cause of a restraining order). I've traveled a fair bit and have every reason to expect I'll get to see lots more places in the future. I have tried new things and talked to people and thought about stuff and felt a whole spectrum of feelings and, all in all, done a pretty decent job of squeezing some living in amid all the existing.
Yet even though I know that I'm fortunate, and deeply appreciate the multitudinous aspects of my life that are appreciation-worthy, I have a paradoxical ability to simultaneously dwell on the parts of my life I'm not satisfied with, or my perceived shortcomings in the great-but-not-perfect parts, while also sashaying blindly past the aspects that really need work and attention, tucking them safely out of sight under my voluminous skirts of denial. I guess that makes the bad stuff like rotting petticoats, not really an image I want to spend any time pondering.
As a result, sometimes, I'm a reality evader.
I like to tell myself that I am, truly, hyperrealistic. I try to keep my expectations low, avoid aiming too high, allow myself to be satisfied with deeply unsatisfying situations through a severe Inner Bad Mommy (in no way resembling my actual mother) who regularly chides me by asking, "who do you think you are, anyway?" in a tone ranging from mocking to world-weary. When I actually step back and try to be objective, or as objective as one can be about oneself (which isn't much, really, but the best I can do without paying for a therapist), I can see that following Bad Mommy's advice means building a carefully engineered apparatus for unhappiness. Over the years, I've learned that the cruelest and most confining of traps are the ones we build for ourselves, the ones constructed of years, even decades, of accumulated I can'ts, I don'ts, I'm not the kind of person whos, That's just how I ams. Unfortunately, knowing that's how it works doesn't magically stop me from continuing to do it, but it does keep me constantly trying to ferret out those self-made traps, recognize them not as reality but as mental bondage, and break free of them. I have a sneaking sense this is going to be a full-time occupation for the rest of my life.
But another consequence of this cycle of faux-realism and bondage-breaking is that I can only keep so many balls in the air at a time. Because I have to devote so much energy to knocking down the house that
Jack I built, there's a finite amount left over for the mundanities of everyday life. I never seem to be able to keep everything going at once.
The end result of all this reality-juggling is that at any given time, there are only a couple of realities functioning smoothly, while the rest gets swept under my aformentioned skirts of denial, where I can pretend they don't exist. For instance, I might be getting a lot of work done and doing a good job of maintaining a varied and active social life, pursuing some creative, er, pursuits, maybe even going on some actual dates. Sounds great, right? Meanwhile, though, my housekeeping has degraded to a couple of steps above frat house level, my checking account is overdrawn, I'm living on junk food and haven't exercised in weeks. At other moments, I'm living a clean, healthy lifestyle, with a pristine home and lots of healthy food and activity, but I'm a month behind in grading and haven't had a conversation with anyone who isn't Fred or a student for the past month. Dating? Not even on the radar.
Part of me--probably the rational part--thinks that this is just the normal state of being of someone who has a busy, rich, varied life. Something is always going to have to take a back seat, and as long as everything gets a chance to be front and center, that's pretty healthy.
But my Inner Perfectionist, who insists that if only I weren't a lazy slob I could DO ALL THE THINGS, is unhappy with this state of affairs. After all, plenty of people on TV --at least some of whom are clearly less "full of potential" than I--effortlessly manage demanding jobs, healthy lifestyles, intense social lives, and miscellaneous leisure pursuits. (My Inner Perfectionist is unfortunately kinda gullible, at least when it comes to setting unattainable goals. She's tricky because she simultaneously thinks I'm so great I should be able to do amazing things, and is deeply disappointed in my failure to do them all. Consistently, anyway.) If it were up to her, I'd be on a carefully regimented regimen of perpetual perfectulosity. There would be no skirts of denial because there would be nothing to deny or hide, if only I could get my act together and follow her demanding schedule.
Neither Bad Mommy nor Inner Perfectionist is really helping me figure out a way to cope with all of life's demands in a productive way. Sometimes, on the other hand, I'm able to access a different internal voice. I don't have a name for her, because she's not as familiar a presence as the other two. But she is kind of like a coach and cheerleader all wrapped up in one. She thinks I'm actually pretty okay as I am, and she dismisses all the trap phrases. She peers under my skirts of denial (er, not in a naughty way), and patiently pulls out the stuff that's hidden under there, item by item. She studies each one, takes it apart into a lot of non-scary pieces, and helps me go about just getting things done.
Together Me* (*provisional name) has only made a couple of appearances lately, but when she does, it feels pretty amazing. I would like to figure out how to keep her around more. She helps me muffle the annoying ongoing commentary tracks by Bad Mommy and Inner Perfectionist, and makes all the realities I'm juggling somehow, if only briefly, merge into a single reality that I am fully capable of dealing with. If she were around more, I wouldn't have to be a reality evader or a reality juggler. I could just... be me.
I'm working on it.