August 6, 2016 Leave a comment
I had this little realization the other day…
See I just bought a bike a few days ago. I was all excited because this meant I could run errands on my bike, bike to work (cause my new job is super close!), and get some exercise/relaxation at the local bike paths and forest preserves. All around, pretty happy right?
Within a mile of my first fucking outing my self kicked in. My brain. My stupid brain. My stupid internal competitiveness and attitude of self-hate. All of the sudden, instead of going for a leisurely bike ride, I was competing with myself. Timing myself and setting immediate goals. What’s my time now? What’s my speed? How far can I go today? How long until I can do 20 miles? That’s too easy, 30 miles by the end of the month. What schedule should I be on? How many days a week can I get in an hour bike ride? What’s my speed now? What if someone is better than me? How long before I’m better than them? How much weight can I lose? How much muscle can I gain if I do this 5 times per week? Should I take a class or do a race? Not until I can finish in the top 5%. What’s even the point of doing this unless I’m going to compete. I should at least be better than that rando I just passed. I bet I can be healthier than my sister if I stick with this.
This thinking style sneaks up on me pretty much every time I start a new thing. If I start running, I can’t just run. I have to building. I have to be competing with someone, even though they usually don’t know that they’re competing with me. I can’t just have a hobby, I have to do it to until I pass out. I have to give it my all. It’s do or don’t. And I don’t just let myself enjoy any of it.
It’s a terrible mentality that was drilled into me when I was a kid. I was already a kind of obsessive kid (neurotypicalities kinda run in my family). And then I started playing basketball. Just a little background: in the town I grew up in, girls’ basketball was INSANE. Like, we were just kind of expected to go to state. You played year round, be it summer leagues, preseason conditioning, etc. It was hypercompetitive to even make the team, let alone get any playing time.
I think my parents tried to put some limits on it when I was younger. I wasn’t allowed to play travel teams (although I think this was also partly cost). But my parents told me that high level of competitiveness wasn’t good for kids. I was just bitter about because it meant I was falling behind. So, just to make the team, I had to work harder and harder and harder. Dedicate so much time to it. It wasn’t healthy. I knew it, because I wasn’t eating well, I wasn’t focusing, and I didn’t even care about playing so much as I just wanted to be better. I was actually pretty miserable playing. Especially once I started high school. I didn’t even have any friends on the team and I’m pretty sure I cried out of frustration or physical pain every time I came home. But I played for another year, and intended to play the following year. I quit partly because of depression and partly because I felt I had to work.
But then that hyperfocus, hypercompetitiveness just transferred into my work. I took like all of the hours that I could at work. I wanted more and all the responsibilities. I ended up moving jobs to get more time and experience and money. By my senior year of high school, I worked two jobs, was enrolled part time in college courses and part time in high school, and was acting as a tech crew leader for the theater. I was also applying to colleges and trying to get scholarships. I don’t think that I ever stopped to enjoy any of this stuff. I mean, it helped me to avoid the depression. That was great. But I just had to keep doing things and keep doing better and be a better worker than everyone around me. Even if no one else knew. (In fact, the other AP students would often say I didn’t deserve to be in the AP classes because I wouldn’t do the homework and they thought I was dumb. Fuck those guys. I killed the tests, which was all that mattered).
I struggle to slow down. I struggle to relax and enjoy what I do and what’s going on around me. I just have this constant need to work harder. Go faster. Do better than whatever I was doing.
That doesn’t sound like a terrible thing to some people, right? No. And in some ways it has been super helpful in getting me through college and grad school. Getting a good job, two good jobs. And putting my life back together when things get rough.
But at the end of the day, I end up exhausted. Burnt out. Isolated from the people and things around me because of my hyperfocus. I know that it pushes people away. And maybe I do it because, in addition to helping me avoid negative moods, it enables my social anxiety. When I’m focused on work, I have a reason to avoid people. I feel like if my friends saw this, they would be confused. Because I don’t really do hobbies, at least I don’t get into them. I don’t because I hate myself within 6 months after I start them; I’m burnt out and angry that I spent money.
Since I’ve had this realization, I’ve decided to try and be mindful about it. Use it when I want to and try to manage it when I don’t want it interfering. It’s a work in progress.