I am so, so f'n tired and miserable... :(
Help me... I’m tired. Right now, I’m working full time in a law firm while also going to school full time.
Most of the people my age have already graduated from college and moved on to grad school or their degrees, but I took a different path and I’m just now finishing up my bachelor’s degree so I can, hopefully, go to law school.
My job is a lot, and I’m only just scraping by there. I put in my 40 hours every week, and I still come out way, way behind schedule on everything. It’s the kind of job where I really should be working late and on weekends, but I can’t because I already don’t have enough time at night and on the weekends to get my schoolwork done.
I’ve felt really proud of myself for surviving this impossible amount of work. It’s hard – I’m tense and stressed and anxious all the time, and I cry daily about how I can’t do it anymore, but I’m still doing it. And, knock on wood, I’m doing okay in spite it all — I’m not thriving anywhere, but I haven’t irreversibly dropped the ball on anything, either.
At the same time, I’m clearly doing too much. I feel guilty for getting eight hours of sleep every night. I feel guilty when I have sex, or go to therapy, or exercise, or take a long hot shower. I feel guilty for writing this letter now, on my lunch break, when I really should be reading for school. Am I really committed and working hard if I do things other than work? I obviously need to take care of myself, but I really, really need to be doing work and everything else feels like self-sabotage.
My incredible, supportive partner and I have been talking about the possibility of me finding a job that is more part time so that I can be more balanced and maybe even take on more schoolwork to get through undergrad faster. I am so, so fucking tired and miserable and constantly on edge that all I want to do is quit, pare down my responsibilities, focus on finishing up this stupid fucking bachelor’s degree so I can just move on. But I’m afraid to quit my job because I don’t want to be a quitter. I’m a lifelong quitter. Until now, I’ve quit every hard thing the minute it got hard. I dropped out of high school because I was too depressed to function. I have dropped every sport, craft, and friendship once it got complicated enough to require real work from me. I am so tired of quitting. I feel like I have a lot to prove, and I’m entirely too weak to prove any of it.
Quitting my job would also mean that I wouldn’t have money to keep going to therapy, or to keep going to my gym (which is always the highlight of my week), or to keep buying art for my walls or the occasional date-night cocktail. And it means that I’d be a quitter, someone who tried something big and gave up when it got hard.
This is all without even addressing the shame I feel for being a bit older than most undergrads and for not going to a “good” school. I get the vibe that some of the people in my life (teachers, co-workers, friends) think I might be a little silly for aspiring to be a lawyer. The people who know me best are excited for me and so supportive, but people I don’t know well (but who do know the legal field) aren’t as enthusiastic about my future. People I respect, who are otherwise kind to me, tend to use my current school as a punch line and clearly think that it’s only for stupid, low-achieving failures.
It feels so unfair. Despite how proud I am of all this work, I’m still so ashamed of what I am doing and how hard I have to work at it. It doesn’t matter that I’ve come so far and that my life is unrecognizable from where I was just a few years ago — I’m still working really hard to barely scrape by in my job and at my crappy school.
I want to be big and tall and self-assured about it all. I want to believe things like “I can be smart and great even if I didn’t have it in me to get into a great college when I was 18,” and “26 isn’t too old to get your first college degree,” and “What I learn from this long and hard path I’m on is the best thing I’m going to bring to the table in ten years,” but I feel so cut down and useless every day that I’m increasingly unsure of it all. I so want to be brave and self-assured, but not at the cost of reality and practicality.
I don’t feel like I’m getting credit for any of the hard, hard work I’m doing. I do poorly at work, I do poorly at school, my personal life is largely on hold, and I’m always stressed and anxious and tired. I feel like this thin spread of myself will never end — when it’s not school, it will be the balance between family and career, or health and family, or personal growth and surviving this world. All of this feels like I’m being told: “Welcome to womanhood! You can’t physically do all of these things, but you still have to do them all. Enjoy!”
Does quitting my job to focus on school make me a quitter? Does being old and in debt with no degree mean I should just quit trying to become a lawyer while I’m already behind? Should I be paying more or less attention to the people who seem to think I’d be wise to aim lower for myself? Is this just how it feels to be in your mid-20s and new to everything about everything?
Legally Losing It
Quitting things doesn’t make you a quitter. That idea is so boiled down and reductive that it could never have the teensiest bit of wisdom inside of it. The fact that you can walk around saying “But I can’t quit because then I’d be a quitter!” is truly a testament to how blind your self-loathing and black-and-white thinking have made you.
You are a person of extremes. You quit things when you were younger because you were sad and fearful and didn’t see any other escape. Now you punish yourself and never, ever quit. Neither way of living is good for you. Avoiding hard things is bad for you. Working full time while being a full-time student is bad for you. FULL STOP. You are killing yourself. You are teaching yourself that suffering is the only way to be “good.” That’s terrible for you now and terrible for you over the long haul. Shaking off that belief system is the best thing you can do for yourself, now and in the future.
You feel guilty for sleeping eight hours or having sex? Dude. I mean. I don’t even know where to start. Your brain is a 24/7 broadcast of self-recrimination. Yes, you need therapy. And sleep and sex. You also need to find part-time work. You need to learn to quit things again. You need balance. You need to train your brain to stop beating you up every second of every day.
When I met my husband, I was like you. I worked way too hard. I didn’t believe in quitting. I didn’t want to quit my job because other people would say it was a dream job, even though I didn’t like it anymore. I didn’t want to slow down because I would never write a book or do anything with myself if I didn’t work my ass off. But I also had very little ambition. When it came to actually writing that book I was supposed to write, I felt tired and unmotivated. Why did people write books again? Did I really care about becoming an author? Why do anything?
I was conflicted because I worked myself way too hard around the clock, and it made me depressed and anxious. My body and mind were rebelling against the strict demands of my punishing 24/7 broadcast of guilt and self-recrimination. I wasn’t allowed to take a day off or sleep late or exercise because these things were indulgences that I couldn’t afford until I proved I was “good” and hardworking enough to deserve them.
Eventually, I did quit my job, and I wouldn’t have the life or the career that I have now if I hadn’t made that leap. I still felt like a quitter at the time. But I had to find balance. I had to forgive myself for being a human trapped in a body with limits. I had to protect myself from sickness and fatigue. I had to value my own feelings instead of pushing myself too hard at a job I didn’t love anymore.
As I write those words, though, I know how foreign and impossible they’ll look to you. For someone who doesn’t understand how to take care of herself, the words “Protect yourself” and “Listen to your heart” and “Honor your needs” just sound like a load of shit, like some lady-magazine fluff about bubble baths and sheet masks and journaling. But truly PROTECTING and VALUING yourself is a minute-by-minute experience. It’s about talking back to your bad brain, responding to the voice that says “You’re already running behind!” and “Jesus, you’re fucking up again!” by saying “You’re doing fine,” and “This is not a race, you set your own pace,” and “You’re kicking ass right now. You work harder than anyone you know, every day. You have nothing to feel guilty about.”
That doesn’t just mean you don’t have to feel guilty for going to therapy. You also don’t have to feel guilty for sitting down and thinking for a second in the middle of the day, or writing me a letter, or taking a long shower, or not doing the dishes immediately.
Other people, people who don’t understand how trapped you are in your guilty brain, might say things to you like “The world won’t end if you cut yourself some slack occasionally.” But all you hear is SLACK and that makes you think you’re a SLACKER. “You can quit!” they’ll say, but all you hear is “Accept that you’re a quitter, at least that way you can relax.”
As long as you’re using the words “quit” and “too slow” and “behind” as some simple blunt weapons to bludgeon yourself with, you’re not going to understand what a dramatic shift in perspective is required of you at this point in your life. So let me put it this way: You were put on this Earth to enjoy your life. Your life will end one day. You need to make sure that you enjoy it.
That doesn’t mean you have to panic about how much time you have left to do the things you need to do. That means you need to learn to slow down time by savoring your existence. You need to learn to take a deep breath and sit with the silence around that breath. You need to learn to stop. You need to learn to listen to other people, to what they’re really saying. You need to learn to feel what you feel without attacking yourself for having feelings. You need to slow the fuck down.
You are killing yourself. Do you hear me? And you need to stop that. You have a body with limits. Live inside of it. Listen to it. You are here to enjoy your life. That is your first job.
That’s not you giving up. That’s you learning how to be happy.
Published By: Bellaland, The Cut - Ask Polly: Heather Havrilesky
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