As a writer and as a person, I struggle a lot with my own perception of myself. Recently, I’ve been particularly down about my career and my life. I don’t write fast enough, I waste too much time, I’m not as skinny as I used to be, I keep turning back to these bad habits I should have kicked by now. That nagging voice in the back of my head repeats my flaws over and over on an infinite loop, and sometimes it gets almost impossible to tune it all out.
Worse, sometimes it gets really hard to see how anybody else can see past all my failings. Why on earth do my friends put up with me? Why does my husband still look at me like I’m the girl he fell in love with? How can he brag about my accomplishments to his co-workers? How can he forgive that pile of dirty dishes when I didn’t even hit my word count today?
It’s poisonous. It’s toxic. And sometimes, it’s just how my brain is. I feel like I don’t deserve love and support.
Sadly, I don’t have any magic prescription for fixing this kind of negative thinking.
What I do have is a moment.
A couple of weeks ago, my husband convinced me to take a night off. We did our usual scrolling through our Netflix queue and stumbled upon Chef, which has been on my list for a while now.
If you’re unfamiliar with the movie, it’s the story of a celebrated chef whose life has kind of come off the rails. He’s recently separated, he’s in a stifling position, career-wise, and he ends up losing his job after a total meltdown. In his despair about the mess he’s gotten himself into, he tries to get out of spending time with his son. He basically tells the child’s mother that he can’t have the kid seeing him while he’s such a disaster.
In the meantime, the kid’s disappointment is all over his face. For the entire movie, all he’s asked for is the chance to spend time with his dad, and he doesn’t seem to care what they do together. He wants to follow his father to the farmer’s market, to the restaurant where he works. Anywhere. Forget that Mom’s house is beautiful and Dad’s apartment is a hole. He doesn’t care.
And as my heart bled for this boy, I found myself talking at the screen, trying to tell the guy to get over himself. Your kid doesn’t care if you think you’re a failure. He adores you. He just wants to spend time with you.
And my husband put his hand on my knee.
I don’t even think he knew what he was doing, but all of a sudden, the world came into sharp focus.
We write fiction for a reason, and one of those reasons is that it has the power to change people’s minds and people’s lives—it can change their entire perspective.
This particular piece of fiction helped shape mine.
I’m not going to pretend that all my many, many psychological issues were instantly cured. But in that one moment, I remembered that the people in our life don’t love us for what we can accomplish or what we can do. They just love us. They just want to spend time with us.
Love isn’t always something you earn. Support isn’t always something you deserve.
Sometimes, all there is for you to do is to accept it. Let it buoy you up. Let it remind you that you’re worth loving no matter how bad your day is going or how frustrated you are.
And try to be there for the people you love in return.