My my, I let my Vacationing in the scenic Doldrums post linger for so long without an update, I started to get antsy…especially because not long after I posted it, I took an especially zoom-y trip right out of the doldrums, and I’ve spent the last month or so coasting along in a happy mix of productivity and progress and good feelings.
I was feeling so good, I even started to tackle the biggest, thorniest problem I could find. It’s the kind of issue that’s been with me for so long, I wasn’t sure that anything could touch it, but with my productivity I was all, ZAP! BING! Sha-ZAAMO! and things were going great!
(Oh, yes. There’s always an until, isn’t there?)
Until…along came a very sneaky, very confusing, very wily and topsy-turvy-ing monster who set back my productivity with a flump, a bonk, and an unceremonious ker-flop.
It made me feel very, very small. Very sad. Very…sabotaged. And also a little bit dramatic and kind of like a moody teenager. So I decided to interview Sabotaged Me (very carefully) to figure out what I could learn from her.
Interview with Sabotaged Me
Me: Um, hi. I saw what happened.
Sabotaged Me: Oh, really? You don’t sound very sad about it.
Me: Sweetness, don’t be too sarcastic, I know it was hard. I promise you I’m grieving just as much as you are. I’m just wearing the Big Girl Interview costume right now so I can help you.
SM: Okay. Whatever. Listen, this feeling sucks! And it was all going so well! (Starting to wail.) Do you even know what this means?
Me: No, but I think you’re about to tell me…
SM: It means that 1) change is not possible, 2) we are damaged forever, and 3) it’s not worth trying to change. And this always happens, this sabotage thing. I hate it. And don’t even try to convince me this is hyperbole because right now I don’t want to hear it! (Here she buried her head in a pillow.)
Me: Wow, that’s pretty awful. Are you sure?
SM: (Peeks out to shoots me a murderous annoyed look)
Me: Okay, okay. Let’s pretend those things are true. But I have this theory, see. It says that the Downward Spiral of Sabotaged Despair (D.S.S.D.) can sometimes be triggered by…other stuff. Or minor stuff.
SM: This sounds suspiciously like an attempt to cheer me up.
Me: Not at all! You know there is always a blanket Grumpiness Amnesty Policy in place when we talk.
Me: Okay, but what do you think of my theory?
SM: I think…I’m willing to agree that sometimes I might overdramatize things. I will be very unhappy if you say I’m being unreasonable about it, though. Because sometimes things feel so awful I have no choice but to make a fuss and get dramatic so you’ll pay attention.
Me: Aha, this is interesting. Because what might happen if I don’t pay attention?
SM: Well, there are a couple things. First, in some cases you might just go on with your life being way, way too optimistic and annoyingly happy and not paying attention to your failures.
Me: This reminds me of Panic Posing As Realism Monster, actually…
SM: And sometimes, you might just not acknowledge the pain that’s hiding in the sabotage. That makes me unhappy. And then I have to throw a fit to make you pay attention using the D.S.S.D.
Me: So I could potentially avoid some of the despair at the bottom of the downward spiral by giving some love and attention to the sabotage when it first happens?
SM: Yes, yes!
Me: Okay, but we have to leave some room for the reality that I can’t always recognize the sabotage. Sometimes it’s a rogue thought I can’t chase down. Or a set of circumstances I don’t have the power to plan ahead for. Also, remember, what if the D.S.S.D. happens and sabotage hasn’t actually occurred?
Me: I really think this is the case with what happened yesterday. We felt momentarily insecure about one choice. It happened to coincide with some other stuff. One path was to see a pattern of sabotage and begin to despair; the other path was to see the pattern of despair, and choose not to step into it. Because I notice that the downward spiral is actually a really useful distraction from moving towards what feels good, you know?
SM: But what does that mean?
Me: I think we’re supposed to be learning how not to step into the pattern of despair, not how to fix the sabotage. In fact, I don’t think there was sabotage at all — I think we saw a few clues that reminded us of downward spirals we’ve fallen into in the past, and so we just…went with it.
SM: Are you saying that there was no sabotage?
And just like that, she was gone.
No. Because it wasn’t that I wanted to find that sad part of me that felt sabotaged and tell it shut up, you were wrong. I love the part of me that feels sabotaged just as much as I love the part of me that glimpsed the pattern in that wonderful moment and realized that it wasn’t the act of sabotage but the response to the perception of sabotage that mattered.
And the more I can look at that pattern with curiosity and love, the easier it will be to sidestep those perilous downward spirals in the future.
(I just love that little *pop* when the synapses align like that.)