Sometimes, I really wonder about myself. I am rather fastidious when it comes to my personal hygiene, but not always very good about things like dusting my room or doing the dishes. All of my shelves are full of alphabetized books, comics, and video games, but I leave random crap all over my floors and any surface that isn’t used every day. I like to say that I leave all of the heavy cleaning until I get very stressed out so I have a mindless organization based task to do in order to help me feel more in control and relaxed.
Lately, I’m not so sure. I haven’t done any major cleaning in my room for a while and it definitely isn’t because I’ve been saving it for when I feel stressed out or like my life isn’t under my control. I’ve felt both of those things a lot lately and still, an ever-growing layer of dust coats the top of my bookshelves (which accumulates quickly, thanks to my pet bird who is a dust-generating machine) and no cleaning happens beyond the basic quick cleaning I do to keep my room habitable. I’ve even started putting off the cleaning because I feel stressed or exhausted from how much effort and energy everything takes.
I thought about this a lot as I started last night’s meditation. In fact, it was hard not to think about it because I kept finding little bits of paper and shells from bird food stuck to my feet or poking me in the leg. When I finally cleared my mind, this thought was the first thing out. “If I really like cleaning and it really relaxes me, why am I not doing it?” As I meditated, I remembered all of the times when I’d ignore cleaning that needs to be done (at least the ones after I went to college since I never really wanted to clean until I was cleaning up after only myself) and some new patterns emerged.
Up to a point, I think I find cleaning relaxing and positive to my mental well-being, but I don’t think I enjoy it as much as I’ve led myself to believe. I think I spent a lot of time convincing myself that I enjoyed cleaning since cleaning is something that needs to get done regularly, is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and is a good way to help you feel mentally organized. I don’t think I really enjoy it. The feeling of positive reward is pretty much the same feeling I get when I can stick to some of my core habits. I feel the same way about cleaning my spaces as I do about brushing my teeth. Since I never tried to convince myself that I enjoyed brushing my teeth, I never really tried to see that positive reward of following a habit as enjoyment like I did with cleaning.
That being said, it really illustrates just how hard we can try to convince ourselves that we like something when we really don’t. I’ve heard of and personally seen relationships that only stayed together because neither person broke up with the other. I’ve seen people who are pretty miserable together and who argue constantly (sometimes even viciously) stay together because they’d convinced themselves that this was what they wanted. I’ve seen people who probably still work at my old job, who I worked with every day, go from hating their job to convinced that they love it despite being constantly miserable and complaining all the time. It is incredible how much work we will put into making ourselves believe we’re happy instead of facing the truth that we aren’t and the quandary of what to do it about it now that we know we’re unhappy.
Or how hard we’ll work to make ourselves believe something that isn’t true. You see it a lot in society today, what with all the climate-change deniers and the people still advocating for trickle-down economics, but there’s a more micro level version, on an individual basis, that involves the way we view ourselves or the world around us. A lot of the time, though untruths are mostly harmless. Things like how these pants look on us, how much alcohol we can handle (though this might be more common in Wisconsin), the exact number of our weight or height. Stuff like that. Little things that are just a part of being a human in a society that isn’t necessarily what our brains are best adapted to. There are bigger ones, though, that can heavily impact our lives and the lives of those around us. “I don’t have a drinking problem” despite binge-drinking a few times a week, or ignoring the homelessness problem in your city because they seem to get around pretty well, or even something that is often turned into a joke: “I’m not racist! How could I be? I have black friends!”
Part of being human is having the ability to fool yourself into believing anything. Another part that unfortunately goes with it is getting defensive when strongly held beliefs are attacked or tested. The Oatmeal did an excellent job explaining in this comic, but a quick explanation of the comic is that humans tend to treat attacks on firmly held beliefs or opinions as the same thing as attacks on the self. Your brain reacts the same way to being physically attacked as it does to having your core beliefs challenged or attacked. This can make it difficult to change your mind about things that you view as important to who you are as a person. That’s why people get so upset if you have to convince them that they have a drinking problem or that their relationship is only making them miserable or that the cause they’ve dedicated their life to is only going to make things worse for people.
I try to live without any big lies and I try to take stock of how I feel about things without misleading myself. I think that, at least in terms of misleading myself, I haven’t been doing a very good job of avoiding this behavior. I don’t think I live with any big lies, but this tangled mess inside my head doesn’t exactly make it easy to figure out what I’m thinking or how I’m feeling. It is a lot easier to ignore the immediate reaction to something when I can sweep the whole thing under the metaphorical rug before I’ve got time to really think about it. I don’t think I’ve done it for any huge problems, but the only real evidence I have of that is none of my friends calling me out on toxic or self-destructive behavior. I mean, I’ve clearly been lying to myself about enjoying cleaning, so what else am I lying to myself about? I’m pretty sure I’m in this mental mess right now because I’ve been lying to myself.
I stayed at my last job way longer than I should have because I thought I’d make the most money there. I kept going, convincing myself that I could change things if I just kept trying. I worker harder, telling myself that someone would recognize my work and reward me, even if it didn’t exactly fit into the easily quantifiable metrics my manager used. I kept going from day-to-day because I knew I only needed to keep it up for a while longer and then things would finally start getting better.
None of that was true. I make more money at my current job. No one wanted things to change but the people without power and the powerless people couldn’t do anything about it because the system was designed that way. No one cared and my boss never used anything but the metrics. Things didn’t finally get better. In fact, they got worse and then took a hell of a lot of work on my part to simply stop getting worse, let alone improve.
I lied to myself a lot, about a lot of things, and I know that I need to stop it. I’m good at pushing past my limits, but doing so in these types of situations only made my future more difficult and my mental health worse. I need to watch out for more because I know I’m not where I want to be and I need to ensure that staying here is actually because it is the best way to get where I want to go rather than simply easier than making a change. Otherwise, I’m going to stagnate and get stuck again, and I don’t think I could handle it a second time.