When you became a parent, everything was so hard. You stopped knowing how to live. Without a day job to structure your hours, you got lost between day and night, between baby breakfast and snack. You forgot what the shower looked like. You measured your self-worth by how much or little you smelled on any given day. You looked at the kids, and at least they were there. Alive. Good. Perhaps not because of you. But probably. I mean, they were just babies. It was up to you, right?
Eventually, you forced yourself to make your own structure. You got together some to-do lists, you made some long-term goals, and you used social media to help you find friends--other mothers who were new at this thing, other women who were struggling.
They never knew you were actual garbage.
You had enough of a talent for writing that you were relatable. You never worried about showing them your failures because you were funny about it, and you didn't mind looking bad if it made other people feel better about themselves. You kept hacking away at your lists and your writing, and, for a while, you felt pretty good about this. You felt like you were making a difference to people. People seemed to be trying because you were fighting there along with them, there to support them and laugh with them, there to share your triumphs and failures. For a while, you felt like the face of a certain type of parenthood, and you were okay with that. Parenting is a wonderful thing to bond over because it is essentially outside of yourself. It is a foreign body to nearly everybody. As close as it is to you, it is never quite who you are. That makes it somehow safe. It gives your life an outside focus. It is something you do, not something you are. But it is ALSO something you are, and so the validation and friendship you receive as a result of it is natural and complex. You can talk about it as an it while also integrating it as a you. It's easy to write about, to pull funny snippets and anecdotes into a broader context that all parents can relate to. You knew always that you were a very small fish, and you constantly checked yourself, lest you became egotistical about it.
You always liked to be the center of attention. Lord knows how often you had been told about that part of yourself.
But kids grow up.
And suddenly they're too old for you to write too much about them anymore without violating their privacy and agency as people.
At the same time, you've hacked your to-do list to pieces. You've won awards, you've published in all the places, you're making money, you're even being paid to teach others how to do this.
But you're still garbage.
And now you're not even relatable. You are somehow too much and not enough at the same time.
You realize your bulletproof strategy was perhaps closer to compulsion than you want to admit, and you are not proud of yourself at all. Since you are garbage, everything you've accomplished is garbage, and those who celebrated your accomplishments are garbage and everything is garbage.
So you keep going, racking it up, doing your best. Your paper resume is fucking solid. There is no denying that you are GOOD.
Except you're not. You're leaking everywhere. You want to tell people about how hard you work, in the hopes that they will admire your tenacity and ethic, that they will see this goodness and say something. But you know that telling people about how hard you work is poison.
First, it might make them feel like they are hopeless, unaccomplished, not enough. It also provokes an eye-roll reaction, because, honestly, who cares what you've done. It gets to the point where even in places where you're supposed to list your accomplishments, you don't want to. "X is a freelance writer" is all you want to say. You're afraid the rest is bragging. You're afraid the rest is showing off. You're certain other people could do this, what you do. You are not special.
You do not want people to think you think you are special.
You do not want people to think you think you are better than them.
And now that your days consist of writing and interviewing and publishing instead of changing diapers and mushing up avocado, you can't hide what you've been doing all along, which is talking about yourself.
Forcing yourself to badly put together an IKEA dresser for your kids and forcing yourself to write a 2,000-word profile for a major magazine seem the same to you, but they're not. You can write about the first, and it's funny and cute. If you write about the second, it's smug, it's bragging. And not just about your accomplishments, but about the unhealthy standards to which you've held yourself, and about the unhealthy way you accomplished those standards.
And speaking of the kids, you look at them now, growing, and you see the weight has shifted. They are still good, but now you know that it is definitely in spite of you, rather than because of you. The kids are good because kids are made good, and it's all you can do to mess them up as little as possible, and you're failing.
You see other people, women in particular, doing what you have done, and you want to tell them to stop. You want to tell them it doesn't work. You want to protect them from this. You're afraid it will overwhelm them, swallow them. You're afraid they're doing it the way you did it, to fill something. You're afraid they'll wake up and find it still empty, like you did.
But you can't warn them. How presumptuous of you to assume they are like you. They are not garbage, after all. Why project your feelings all over their hard work?
You have long thought about how anxiety affects your life. You've come around to wondering about compulsion and what it even means. But you can't really complain about your feelings, your drive. If you do have anxiety, it's not that bad. You're just making a big deal out of it, like you always do.
People have it so much worse. You can get out of bed in the morning. You can do all the things! You do them, all the time. You have 'spoons.' Lots of spoons. All the spoons. You can go forever.
You worry that too much talk about this anxiety will turn people off. Now, not only do they feel compelled to pat you on the back whenever you've accomplished whatever stupid thing you set out to accomplish that day, they also will feel like they have to comfort you. That's an emotional burden they don't need. You think they'll resent you for it. You think they probably already do.
Here she comes. She has everything, does everything, and, still, she needs us to coddle her.
You've gone from relatable to off-putting. You've gone from just enough to make everyone happy to too much and too little all at once.
You're going to lose everyone, as well you should.
This is what happens when you base your narrative on failure and you then outwardly succeed. This is what happens when you make it on the outside without ever having looked at the inside.
And deep down, you know that your inside doesn't even deserve the attention you're giving it right now.
There is nothing wrong with you. You are fine.
Other than being garbage.
You throw some Christmas lights over your garbage heap and hit post.