Nearly 18 months ago it became apparent that if my mental and physical health didn’t make it to the priority list, I was, sooner or later, going to break irretrievably. About a year ago, I started looking at what was going on with my creative work and identified a similar problem – if I was going to not give up, my work was going to have to be on the list of things that mattered.
It is in part about asking other people to give me time, space and other resources. It is about asking other people to take my needs seriously. But, I won’t do that if I’m not taking my needs seriously. I’ve spent a lot of my adult life feeling like stuff for me was never the most important thing. It so easily becomes a self-fulfilling thing as well. I don’t make much money from my creativity, so in terms of looking after my household, my creativity cannot be a priority and so I don’t invest in it and it doesn’t bring much in and round we go again.
In the last year or so, I’ve started asking what’s in it for me? I’ve stopped making what other people want the most important consideration. I’ve not really had a lot of choice – for the last five months or so, I’ve moved from one disease to another. Time, energy and personal resources are at a serious low. I cannot run round after many people. I truly don’t have much I can afford to give. Prioritising has become a matter of survival. It’s led me to saying no to people, to not showing up, not offering, not responding to stuff on social media. I allow myself to scroll on past if I don’t feel like I have the resources to spare to help.
Sometimes, that makes me feel like a cold and heartless sort of person.
However, I’ve managed to keep working all the time I’ve been ill. I’ve managed to honour my most important commitments. I’ve managed to be helpful sometimes, because I’ve focused on what I can most effectively do. I’ve mostly hung on, just on the right side of things. Bouts of crumbling into despair, into weeping that I cannot keep going, cannot do the things, have been few in what has been a very tough five months. Probably better to say no early on rather than try and fail and take things down with me, I feel.
I’ve decided I can choose who and what I am going to responsible for, rather than having it chosen for me. I’ve not put much energy into explain things to people where I’ve had to pull back – they don’t have to keep holding any space for me, they can write me off as a bad loss, that’s fine. But, I’m not doing drama, and I’m not investing energy in justifying myself and that has really helped. I keep reminding myself that I am not obliged to meet other people’s needs for my time, attention and energy – no matter how entitled they think they are, I am not obligated. To be honest, this still feels really weird, but I can see it working, and life has been easier as a consequence.
One of the curious lessons in all of this, is that it was never the people most in need who were sapping me the most. People with small problems and a big sense of entitlement are a lot more exhausting to deal with. People who wanted results from me but also wanted to control how I was going to deliver that have, with hindsight, been a massive problem. I’ve put a hand up for some larger projects recently and noticed how much easier it is when people just let me do what I do. When I’m trusted to know what I’m doing. When the people who want my help don’t then require me to fight them so that I can help in a way that actually works.
If I can work on my own terms, then I can work happily, and when it comes to ‘what’s in it for me?’ that’s a really important factor.