When (and where) I was growing up working was one of those things everyone did. Sure, there were unemployed people around me (largely out-of-work builders which are a special sub-category) but they were always between jobs or at least full-time single mothers looking forward to going back to work. People started working young, finished working late and people never failed to ask you what you did for a living or what you were going to do when you grew up. The rhetoric of benefit scroungers hadn’t begun – though everyone knew at least one person ‘doing the double’ – if you could afford to not work you were probably some rich layabout, toff slacker but in essence the idea was similar – if you weren’t working you weren’t contributing to your family or to society at large.
This attitude to working that categorised it as a) only being real if it was paid b) a defining part of your personality and c) a measure of your human and social worth snuck into my subconscious very young. Interestingly though, the amount one was paid was never considered an important factor and there was some kudos attached to working very hard for little pay to feed your family and see them or choosing vocational roles like nursing which traditionally are poorly paid. What it did was teach me that my value as a member of society and as a member of my family is based on the amount of time and energy I put into supporting them through paid employment.
By not working I have transformed myself from being slightly feckless to a burden on those around me. I immediately become a fundamentally lazy and thoughtless individual (doubly so because I have the physical capability to work); my opinion matters less; I forfeit my right to welfare; I am simply not trying hard enough.
The political landscape in this country has increasingly reinforced these ideas – idle benefit scroungers are a daily feature of the news, (Today: Freeze unemployment benefits – which only last a few months anyway – but not working tax credit…), there is an idea that people who don’t work only ever hang around in pubs and cause crime and that there is a right sort of work [often ‘not pub work’]. This means that a graduate who refuses a job in a supermarket is a scrounging snob but ‘that kid over there with the brightly coloured tatts’ behind the counter at the supermarket twice a week is too lazy to get a full-time job… damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Oh and overlaying it more strongly now (and perhaps here – now I am in a town not the sticks) is an anxiety about spending enough to dress right, to have the appropriate gadgets but not to spend so much that you look profligate and reckless; about saving for a holiday but not necessarily a pension; about telling people you have no money so they won’t hate you but spending enough so you don’t seem stingy or like you really have none because you didn’t get paid very much/work hard enough to earn ‘enough’. Work harder, spend less, prove you can support your family, work harder, don’t ‘look’ poor…
Its all reassuringly liberal-capitalist: work hard and you’ll go far; count your success with your pennies and your consumption; useful = worthwhile; pay some taxes in (but not too much) don’t expect anything back; Earn it – Deserve it
As with many of these things I find myself stuck behind my own double standards – I fundamentally believe (intellectually) that one should be able to contribute to society and family in many ways, including voluntary work, political campaigning, house-keeping, etc. . I believe that I personally pay my taxes in order to provide schools and hospitals and nursing homes regardless of the work-status of families – I am proud to pay taxes to support people less fortunate than myself (though that doesn’t mean I don’t also believe that encouraging people to take responsibility for themselves and work towards an appropriate degree of self-sufficiency isn’t a goal of that support; or that some people do take the piss and don’t try to support themselves financially).
I also (emotionally) believe that I personally do not work hard enough and that by not being paid to work and therefore bringing money into our household I am of less use and thus worth. No amount of housework or emotional support or admin support or financial planning on my part will ever be as much of a contribution as being able to pay the bills and the mortgage and buy the food. Sad but true.
How can you help someone who doesn’t believe they are worthy of love?
When you love a person who automatically assumes that everything they do is wrong, when they think that they aren’t lovable, when every day they fight their sense that their choices are fundamentally flawed etc… then you in turn fight everyday to remind them that you find them intrinsically lovable and that you trust them.
I know how the depression monster eats away at every feeling of worth and I know what it feels like to believe on a truly fundamental level that simply by being every action and word of yours is flawed and yet I struggle to deal with it in other people – especially when I care about them.
How do you deal with the fact that someone you feel passionately is beautiful, funny and caring, not to mention smart and engaging can’t even believe in your love for them?
How do you assuage the fear and anger that goes with the sense of powerlessness and hopelessness of low self-esteem?
What do you do when you know that your actions and existence only make the person you care about more anxious and feel less certain of their actions?
Some days I am reminded more strongly than others that my relationship(s) require a lot of time, work and patience; some days I am reminded that the battles we face with depression and anxiety will be with us for the rest of our lives and some days I am especially reminded that my feelings and choices not only have long and heart-rending consequences but also that they are probably less important to me than the long term feelings of my girl.
In About Intimacy I wrote about the sense of loss and confusion felt by a friend of mine at the sexual dry spell she has been experiencing and I want to reprise some related issues in this post. I was especially inspired to further consider the points by This Blog Piece
As a young active sexual individual I both crave and enjoy sex on a physical level and on an emotional level. I don’t need sex to feel attractive or validated or loved….but it helps. This has nothing to do with my lovers or the attention they pay me or the affection they offer me.
It is all about how I feel I should be a good partner.
If (in my rather self-critical and paranoid head) I am to be a good wife then I should be sexually attractive and available.
I should be pleasing to their aesthetics in order to make them pleased – this applies to my general physique, weight hair-cut and to my dress and ‘beauty regime’.[I would note I have never had to contend with conflicting views of what is pleasing about my body -but I would definitely dress differently for a date with each of my loves]. In my head although failure to put effort in is not a major crime it has the potential to become so if it is persistent because it implies that I don’t care enough to make myself pleasing. On the whole I dress to be comfortable and practical and maintain basic personal hygiene rather than indulge in active ‘beautification processes’ as sold by cosmetic industries and women’s magazines but occasionally I feel the need to present myself as someone they would be proud to be seen with. This I think is related to an occasional need to dress in such a way as to turn heads in order to boost my sense of self-esteem. But is there a subtle difference between a desire (need?) to be praised (for my looks), a desire to make my loved ones smile because I have done something for their pleasure and a fear that if I don’t look or act attractive I am somehow failing as a partner.
This leads to the sex issue.. I am anti sexual coercion of any but the pre-arranged bdsm variety and this explicitly includes guilt-tripping within a relationship or withholding favours in anger or as a means of control (again this is with the clear exception of good ol’ pre-negotiated play scenarios) and yet I routinely feel that I should have more sex with my partners.
The sense that is my duty as a woman and and as a wife to provide sexual pleasure is mystifying to me on an intellectual level – I am after all in a relationship configuration that specifically allows additional sexual contact (albeit with certain provisos) and I am not against masturbation or porn and therefore I am not the sole means of sexual gratification for my partners. I am aware of the fact that sexual desire is not a constant; neither the same from person to person nor individually from time period to time period and that it is appropriate to express my desire or lack of as I wish as long as I am not coercive or intimidating. I also aware that not doing so is in fact both demeaning and unpleasant for my partners since it is disrespectful of the intimacy of our relationship. I am as commented before regularly and happily sexually active.
Yet despite all of this in my head some days there is a nagging voice that tells me ‘I should’ and perhaps even ‘if you really loved him/her you would’ when my body is telling me that it doesn’t want to. This little voice believes that without regular sex my partners will not want me any more, that an absence of sex is a sign that love is fading and that without sex there is no intimacy- it is not what my intellect or even my heart tell me, it just the voice of fear. So what self-esteem demon is it that believes that my body and what I do with it is a key marker of my affection and my ability to be lovable? Is society really that prescriptive about what makes a ‘real’ relationship that I am frightened any failure to conform will render me worthless?
I’m really bad at spending money.
The value and purpose of money is definitely an area my wife and I differ on.. and that can cause friction – not marriage ending issues just confusion and disappointment.
The problem is simple. I don’t like spending money on me, and I don’t like other people doing it either. I consider money functional and I hate buying things (for me) that aren’t functional. Now don’t get me wrong I regard holidays as functional and I enjoy buying gifts – but clothes that I will only wear once, or even clothes to top up a wardrobe that already contains working items= infuriatingly pointless; ornaments, games, toys, all need to fulfil the used more than once category; books and music? lovely to have but probably not worth buying for myself except in extremis (ie deep depression or giftcards – and even then likely to result in guilt).
I believe in buying food ethically and I like it to be tasty but cannot stand to throw any away and would rather eat food I hate than consign it to the bin. I believe in saving up for regular treats, like takeaway or meals out, but get twitchy if the regular bills go too high and would happily eat only spaghetti in order to have one night of steak without feeling guilty.
Although I feel the need to personally save money for emergencies (keeping cash always available) – train and plane fares and house repairs – I don’t think its the end of the world if there isn’t much to go around. I like to save up for holidays and sudden spur-of-the-moment blow-outs but I hate telling anyone they can’t have something. I adore giving my loves surprise gifts or at least making sure that they can spend whatever they want.. except..on me.
This makes Valentine’s day (amongst others) a touch tricky. Its not that I don’t appreciate shiny things I just .. I just find them hard. I want the money to be useful and in general gifts aren’t useful. Maybe I just have ridiculously high standards – cos hell there is a lot I won’t turn down, or maybe its the low self-esteem that says I am not worth having money spent on.
Firstly I need to do 2 things: send drugs back to the pharmacy (I have a collection of psych drugs I haven’t taken and gave up taking for various reasons and quite frankly they represent a ridiculous temptation of idiocy) and donate the bras that don’t fit to bravissimo (apparently this uk store take used and unloved undergarments as charitable gifts and since I got fat and misshapen I have plenty of ill fitting brassieres to donate)
Secondly I really need a kick up the back side. My self esteem is pretty low right now and I really hate myself for feeling like crap and bursting into tears at regular but unexpected intervals. I feel shit for demanding attention and reassurance and as a consequence I am unresponsive and cranky. Its a vicious circle and I want to break out of it but every time I try at the moment I fall back into apologies, self-recriminations and other silliness.
So right now I am just on the right side of the razor blades and desparately avoiding the painkillers every joint in my body is screaming for in fear of overdosing.. Thank fuck forpain relief gels because this weather is absolute agony.
Stupid head. stupid body
So, finally.. plans include exercises, painkillers, cleaning and thesis-writing, oh and stopping crying.