Magical thinking sounds like fairies in the garden or lavender tea that will soothe my anxiety. It is the enchantment in the world that is leaving out cookies for Santa or crossing your fingers for luck. It doesn’t sound like a problematic way of approaching the world. Conversely, limits and boundaries sound cold and harsh, a way of making the world smaller. Led by this dichotomy, I’ve spent too much time trying to wish my way into being able to do it all. This is difficult for those who are mentally and physically healthy, let alone for those who aren’t. I struggle with anxiety, OCD, migraines, and a chronic back condition that makes me tired and sore all of the time.
I thought if I could pretend that I was normal and healthy, that I could do anything and I wouldn’t have to suffer any consequences. I said yes to everything and exhausted myself trying to actually do it all, which led to me being forced to say no to things when I was out of physical and mental energy. Instead of setting priorities and boundaries, which include accepting and working with my limits, instead of against them, I had no control over what I would have to sacrifice.
I was also working against my body, instead of with it. I saw my physical and mental illnesses as barriers and tried to force my way past them. I hurt myself in the process. This didn’t make me better or stronger. Instead I let people down. When I had to cancel or call in sick at the last minute I was letting people down. When I couldn’t be with my friends and partner, I was telling them I didn’t care enough about them to save them my energy and strength.
In the past, I’ve come whenever anyone wanted to meet or there was a talk I was supposed to go to. I tried to be the perfect grad student, accommodating, available, and present. Each week easily became full of epic long days at school. I started having to call in sick, because I needed physical recovery time. The recovery time cut into my at home working time. I got behind in work. I had to flake on social events on weekends. I was told that it wasn’t enough. I was let myself and my friends and partner down, but it wasn’t enough. I realized it would never be enough. I was working beyond my limits and it wasn’t enough.
So now I’ve had enough. I’m learning that magical thinking isn’t wondrous, but a way of trying to avoid actual healthy, strong, and courageous behavior. I’m setting limits and boundaries, which has actually been magical. I am a graduate student and a teaching assistant. I have three days a week I come to campus and I can meet and attend meetings on those days. I won’t add an extra day, because then it will be an extra day every week. There’s always something to do or someone to meet. It seems like it’s not much to ask, but the costs are high for me, and I don’t want to make everyone in my life pay them.
I don’t say yes to every social event, but if I say yes to one, I’m going to go. I’m not going to have to flake at the last minute. I’m also making myself a priority. By setting limits for my commute and my time at school, I have time to work out with my partner. This fulfills a commitment to working with my body, to making it stronger, instead of working against it. It also fulfills a commitment I have to my partner to do this together. Same with making time and energy for cooking at home and eating with my partner.
When I thought magically, I wasn’t able to talk about my needs and limits honestly. I lied all the time. I told everyone I was fine, that my back didn’t hurt, that I could go to the meeting or event, that I could finish that work in that time, and that I didn’t need help or support. No one knew or understand because I didn’t tell them. This blog is part of my commitment to being authentic and honest with others and more importantly with myself, with ending the magical thinking and embracing my imperfect body and mind.