Can it ever be enough?

Another personal ramble. Sorry if this one is even less coherent than the last. Been very emotionally overwhelmed by a lot of things today and I think I just needed to get some of it out there. Maybe someone will read this and find they’re not alone and that’s literally all the good I can hope to do by opening up.

“I need to be more productive.”

“I could have done more work today if…”

“I’ve wasted so much time already.”

“I won’t take a break until X is done.”

large.jpgThese are but a few of thoughts that go through my head on, well, a daily basis. If I wake up five minutes after my alarm I am ‘behind schedule’ even though I work from home and the only schedule I have to keep is my own. Every minute at my desk that I catch myself doing something other than work wracks me with guilt. And the worse part? The more productive I am in a day, the worse all these things get.

I lost a lot of time to depression, a close friend’s illness, and grief over the past few years. That’s not to say I did nothing during that time: somehow I wrote half a book, survived two and a half years of psychology course with the OU (I had to quit before the end for lack of support from my tutors for my circumstances and I had grown to detest the course), joined the FETC (emotional therapy counselling) to train as a counsellor, and generally achieved a hell of self-understanding.

Still, all I can see of that period of my life is a bleak landscape of nothingness. As though I had nothing to show for all those years. As though I had to justify my very existence by my achievements.

I grew up as quite the high-achiever at school. I was forever in the top 3 of my class (sometimes of the school) and most of my teachers had nothing but praises for me. I can’t remember what my parents were like all the time. But I can remember a lot of being told I wasn’t working hard enough, that I didn’t realise how lucky I was that I could be so lazy about my schoolwork and still get such good grades. It was always made a point that I wasn’t working hard, and somehow, somewhere in my child’s mind who always heard his parents praise hard work before all, I started to think this was a terrible thing.

The thing was, I wasn’t lazy about my schoolwork. At the risk of sounding boastful, I found it all easy. I was an incredibly academically minded child (university certainly got that out of me >_>) and homework and schoolwork was overall a doddle I could get done quickly before collapsing in front of the TV or a video game, or grabbing the book I was reading (NB: I spent years schooled in France where the school day ends at five or six in the afternoon, so I didn’t have that long to do anything once home). I didn’t leave my homework until the last minute (unless it was Latin, I was really bad at remembering to do my Latin homework). I studied for every test.

But still it wasn’t enough.

The core memory I have of all this must date back to when I was about 8 or 9. I had come home beaming with the grade I had just gotten on a test at school (I don’t even remember what the test had been about but I have a clear memory of the piece of paper I held in my hand when I walked in through the door). It was a 17/20 (French scoring system works out of 20, it’s weird once you move to the UK). I was so proud that I showed it to my father who was home on that particular day. I was at that age where I was desperate to be accepted and make proud this man who spent so much time away from home. He always went on about his academic achievements so I was convinced this would make him proud. Do you know what he said to me?

“Where are the other three points?”

I don’t care if he was joking because he never said “well done” first, or after. Or ever. All he saw was what was lacking.

That incident pretty much sums up his attitude to everything I did. When I tried to learn to draw all he would ever do is point out everything that was bad about my drawing. When fifteen-year-old me made the mistake of leaving the notebook in which he had been writing his first novel in laying around, my father read it and proceeded to tear apart almost every word written. My judo medals were never good enough. When I would practice piano he only ever commented on the mistakes. And on the rare occasions I would question why he had to be so harsh on me, he would reply that this was the way the world was and I would have to get thicker skin if I wanted to get anywhere.

By seventeen I wasn’t writing anymore, any attempts to draw long forgotten, the piano lessons forgotten and the judo training a missed memory. I had been sick from a mysterious stomach illness for a year and I just didn’t see the point in doing anything but what I had to. What was the point, after all, if I was never going to be good enough?

What my dad did was insidious and invisible. It took me years to see the damage that one remark had done. To realise the reason I never seem to manage to finish everything is for fear of how that thing, whatever it is, will be judged once I am done. I put off doing things until I have made myself sick with stress over putting it off and then I sit paralysed by the realisation that I have failed before ever starting.

So when I enter periods where I’m actually managing to work, to throw my all into what I want to do, I don’t do it 100%. I do it 200%. Sometimes more. I time every minute, I feel the need to keep track of everything I’m doing just so I can prove to myself that the paralysis is gone and I’m no longer being a waste of space. But the result isn’t that I’m more productive, it’s that there are days where all I want to do is curl up in bed and hide under the duvet.

Last weekend was tough for me: grief caught up with all its tangle of emotions and it all exploded on Monday. So I didn’t do any work on Monday. Let’s put aside the fact I actually managed to work out and did the groceries shopping (and wrote a long rambly blog post, it seems to be the week!), because all I can see about Monday is that I didn’t study either for my course or the language I’m trying to learn, I didn’t work on my book.

And I hate that about myself. I hate this inability to see what I have done, and instead only see what I haven’t. Thanks dad.

So I spent the rest of the week racing against the clock to make up for Monday. Add to that three trips to various doctors (for minor things), and this week seems to have vanished into nothing. Of course it’s not what my calendar is telling me. I have done plenty this week. It’s there, written black on white. But all I can think, all I can ever think is “But you could have done more if…” There are a thousand things that come after that if, all more ridiculous than the other. I did a couple of those this week, I didn’t take time off when I meant to and just pushed and pushed and rushed myself until today when a headache hit me out of nowhere.

I think these headaches are migraines (symptoms match more than not when I look them up) are absolutely exhausting. I feel dizzy, I feel sick, and one side of my face and behind one of my eyes feels unbearably painful. I know the best way to combat these: have an hour nap. Just turn off from the world and go to sleep. But sometimes I just can’t because I feel so damned guilty about it. Because it feels like I’m wasting time.

So I’ve got a long way to go before I stop this frantic race against….well I don’t know exactly. I know all of this on a mental level but sometimes it’s not enough to stop the feelings from overwhelming me. I don’t know if talking about it is going to help, but I doubt I’m the only person out there who feels this way. Some people will have had it way worse with their parents, some won’t have, and like me might feel unjustified in how it has left them feeling as adults.

The advantage I have is that as a trainee counsellor I know that how bad or not something was, if the damage is done, it is done. There is no need to justify why something affected you, it is enough that it did, especially as our children selves are so much more sensitive than they ever let on. We’re not responsible for how our parents made us feel, all we can do is make the most of what we have now.

So to all the people out there who feel like me: it’s ok, you’re plenty as you are. You’ve done plenty today, even if all you’ve done is breathe and survived through whatever shit you’re having to deal with. Don’t let parents, or society, tell you that your worth can be measured by any achievements. It doesn’t work like that. Be you, and that’ll be more than enough. Always.

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Childhood development: nature vs nurture, or is it both?

Nature_versus_NurtureThe start of my childhood development course has taken me down the alleys of thinking about how it is exactly that children develop and what it is that affects their development. History has seen many a theory being introduced to explain how it is that we develop, learn, and grow. Not all of them still fully apply today, and some seem absolutely baffling if you’re not inclined to share the views of those who first introduced them. But on the whole, most of them have good points that seems to work especially well when mixed and matched in between the different theories.

The four I studied in-depth seemed to grow from within one another, with obvious elements of past theories being dropped as new and shiny concepts are introduced. Sometimes the progress is minimal, sometimes it is revolutionary, but each step taken forward towards a more global understanding of childhood development is an important one: full of promises of better parenting, happier children, and better developed adults. But there is a debate that has always permeated theories of development: are we the product of nature, or the product of nurture?

It’s not just psychologists that have been faced with this headache, and philosophers have, for centuries, asked themselves the same question. To clarify the terms, nature refers roughly to what we are given at birth: our DNA. Nature will decide if we have blond or brown hair, blue or grey eyes, whether our knees are not aligned or we are likely to get coldsores. Nurture, on the contrary, does not come to us with birth, but through the social context in which we are born, through the people around us, through the education we receive, and so on and so forth. So nurture isn’t going to decide what colour hair we have, but it is likely to decide what kind of human being we grow up into.

To an extent.

And this is where it gets tricky. Once we are grown adults, how can we pretend to know how and why we have turned out as we have? We can make guesses, theorize,  look back on our childhood and try to make rational, logical sense of it in a way we couldn’t at the time. But at the end of the day, even through careful study of other children, there is no sure way to draw solid conclusions and form theories that could claim to apply universally (because humans, after all, have this awful tendency to all be so very different from one another).

Take, for example, the case of Alfred (Yes, this is the best name I could up with for my made-up example). Alfred was born in a loving home, surrounded by a loving, peaceful family. He never spent ridiculous amount of hours watching violent programs on TV either. And yet, Alfred was a violent, anti-social child who could hardly be controlled by his parents. Eventually, it was discovered that Alfred had been born with a deficient part of his brain and was in fact a psychopath  Here, nurture is absolutely powerless against nature, although there is no doubt the nurturing would have affected Alfred in some ways. But nonetheless, who Alfred grew into was not ruled by nurture, but by nature. Perhaps even by both for who can say how Alfred would have turned out had he been raised away from a loving and understanding home? Nobody can, and that’s why the nurture vs nature debate is such a tricky one.

Obviously, there are times when nurture can influence nature, or at least can seem to. Children who are unruly from a young age can be taught discipline, but it is difficult to know whether their unruliness is something that they were born with (an innate trait of character) or whether it something they picked up from peers or siblings behaviour.  What, however, of children who demonstrate such behaviour without ever having witnessed it from others? Are they born with an innate desire to be unruly and cause havoc? Perhaps. And if that is the case then nurture can indeed overrule (or perhaps more so, bend and modify) nature.

genes-environment-choices-500x492

Another issue with the concept is when we start looking at people’s choices in career. Those who follow artistic careers and have had contact with an adult they are related to who also follows such a career might find they are told that they are doing so that it is because it is in their nature (clearly being a musician runs into the family, for example). But if a child of two doctors follows the same line of work as his parents, people are far more likely to blame it on nurture (it’s all he’s ever known/he’s trying to be like you). The question is, what is the difference? Maybe a child only chooses to become a musician, not because it is somehow written in his genes, but because he wants to be like his father, his mother, or his uncle. And maybe the little girl whose parents are doctors decides to follow in their footsteps not become she dreams of being like them, but because she feels a real calling towards the profession.

Either way, the idea that either nature or nurture forms us into what we become misses out one important factor: choice. Neither theories, not even them combined, take our own personal choices into account. From a very young age, babies and children are capable of making choices in their day-to-day lives and those choices are likely to have as strong an impact on their development as nurture and nature put together. But that’s for a different blog post all-together.

Psychologists are more and more agreeing that pitching nature vs nurture is a terrible idea and that if we are to truly understand how we develop, both as children and once we have reached our adult years, we need to look at both. To understand one truly would mean the need to understand the other just as completely. Indeed, how could there be development as we know it if only nurture, or only nature had a part to play?