30 Oct the deadly act of comparison.
Over the last couple of years I have developed a habit, a couple of times a week, of going for a walk in the early evening. Sometimes on my own, but often with my very good friend, who I’m going to call Gloria.
It all started last summer, when we (me and my family) were living in a rental house (having sold our house and not having found anywhere to move to yet – I wouldn’t recommend it). The period of living in that house was very stressful, half our stuff was in storage, the house was a bit smaller than we (and more importantly, the kids) were used to, we didnt know when we would be moving again, but we knew it wouldnt be long.
Uncertainty was King.
Now…, I have some lovely friends who are delighted when it gets to the holidays and they get to hang out with their kids ALL THE TIME. Whilst i adore my children, you can have too much of a good thing. Summer holidays for me, are invariably too much. (And there is nothing that will make you feel more crap than arriving back at school in September to be greeted with other parents bemoaning the fact that term is beginning again. I make a point of doing a little dance…)
Last year’s summer holiday (2012) was particularly bad. I was stressed a lot of the time. The weather was truly AWFUL. We had two lovely weeks away at the very beginning of the holidays but I still had 7 weeks to go (the wonderful school my kids go to do really long holidays!). Matt was up-the-wall at work. It was not a great time. I think virtually the only thing that got me through was my evening walks with Gloria who, as luck would have it, lived round the corner.
I have re-written this a number of times and through this process it has become clear to me why I appreciated these walks so much.
As well as the glory of being outside (for more about that read my last post here), it was the friendship with Gloria that made these walks so important. Gloria is a very particular kind of person, and has a very no nonsense attitude. She doesn’t partake in any Mummy-bullshit; The endless talking of how wonderful being a parent is, how magnificent their children are, what fun, yet educational activities they have been doing with their children, the comparison and competition about who’s kids/family/home is more fabulous. Or at the other end of the spectrum she also doesn’t do the self-flagellation about how we aren’t doing enough/ being enough for our kids either.
Gloria doesn’t really do competition or comparison about much.
Whereas I can struggle with this. And when I feel anxious, or generally low, I can struggle with it a lot.
Every time I look at someone else’s life and wish mine was more like theirs, a little part of me dies. How they cope better than me. How they are more ‘together’ than me. How they have a greater capacity than me. And of course, how they are kinder/prettier/thinner/more patient/a better parent than me.
I can have been feeling a bit down and distracted all day, and it is only when I take the time to track my thought process back that I realise what has set me off.
Comparison and competition are bad for your health.
One of the worst ways that comparison creeps into my life, that can set me off thinking my life is sub-standard and a disappointment, is through Facebook. Other people assure me that it is just a great socialising tool. And sometimes, it is that for me too.
But if I am honest there have been lots of times when it hasn’t been. When it has become a stick to beat myself with because i didnt seem to be capable of the kind of life I would see described in my friends’ posts and updates. Yes, I am aware of how weak and shallow this makes me look – but I am kind of
thinking hoping I am not alone…
Often, if i have been on my own a bit too much. Or my kids are being hard work. Or my house is a mess. Or I dont have any work. Everyone else’s life seems more exciting/ productive/ beautiful/ organised/ fun than mine (delete as appropriate).
When I am experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety my confidence takes a real blow. Looking at Facebook then piggybacks my low self esteem, compacting and confirming my fears that my life just isn’t up to the required standard.
For long periods when I was not well, I massively limited the amount of time I would spend on Facebook. This was very helpful.
(And if your sleep is affected can I recommend that you don’t use facebook in the evenings, and if you dont believe me check this out – yesterday in the Guardian http://gu.com/p/3kv4k/fb.)
To have a friend who doesn’t play the comparison game (virtually or in the real world), was, and is, a great relief.
And especially last summer, when circumstances outside of my control were making me feel anxious and low, I appreciated our walks together. After a long day on your own with three children who dont really play together very well, and really all want one-on-one with me, it was great. I never felt (and still don’t feel) the need to be anything other than completely honest with Gloria.
I didnt have to hold it all together, or be especially sparkling company, we just chewed the fat. And had quite a laugh.
She helps me remember that as Soren Kierkegaard said the best thing is to
‘Be that self that one truly is’.
And that is the best thing for me to be…. Me.
To not try to be, or aspire to be, anything other than I was made to be.