Guilt was the #1 thing that brought me down.
On any given morning I would wake up, and the first thing I felt was its weight. Heavy, constant and accusing. Nothing made me want to go back to sleep more than the guilt. So, I often would. My days wouldn’t start till 12pm usually, or sometimes as late as 4pm depending on how bad I was feeling. When I did eventually get up, my day became about doing whatever I could to escape thinking about all the things in my life that were causing that guilt. I had a few favourite methods to avoid that guilt. The top three were going out to social events, playing computer games (when not out at social events) and eating. Lots of comfort/boredom eating.
I like being around people, the energy of a room is enticing to me. Being able to fill my mind with other people, their jokes, stories, experiences and questions was a fantastic distraction from dealing with my own issues. As they inevitably starting asking some more prying questions, I got quite good at changing the conversation’s direction back to them, or just straight up lying about how embarrassing my life seemed to be. I made sure no one was given access into the gritty details of what I did with myself and how that made me feel. I didn’t even let myself honestly know what was going on.
Computer games were probably my top choice for guilt evasion. Having a pretty active imagination, I loved having access to hundreds of world altering universes to immerse myself in. It was so easy to be transported to every reality conceivable; except this one. Except the one where Tom wished he could sleep until until everything just stopped. Everything. All expectations. All commitments and responsibilities, anything that asked me to contribute, to turn up on time and help, to be reliable and consistent. I would wake up at midday, get on my computer and play till 3 am. I knew I had to keep playing late enough into the night so that when I got into bed, my body would crash and pass out. I didn’t want to be awake and alone with my thoughts. It was super effective.
There were times of course where I was bored of the games, and my social calendar was empty. At this point I would resort to just eating and drinking. I remember at one point staring at my screen in boredom and suddenly remembering that I had a can of coke and left over takeaway in the fridge. I ran to the fridge. With excitement and anticipation, I ran to the fridge. I never ran, for any reason, let alone with excitement and anticipation, but that can of coke and deep-fried something was a bolt of lightening to my system. I did have a good laugh and shook my head in disbelief when I realised this. The only thing that made me really excited that day was a can full of liquefied sugar and cold, soggy batter.
SO WHAT WAS I RUNNING FROM? WHAT WERE THE ITEMS THAT POPULATED THIS LIST OF SHAME?
– I had dropped out of my Uni degree after failing every single unit over 2 semesters the first time around.
– I was failing my second attempt at the Uni degree.
– I was in debt for a large sum of money.
– I was avoiding working enough to pay for life’s necessities.
– I wasn’t saving what little money I did have.
– I still hadn’t gotten my driver’s license at 22 years old.
– I went from 85kgs to 115kgs.
– I was known as an unreliable and inconsistent friend.
– I was a dead weight, untrustworthy and ultimately needing to separate in my romantic relationship.
– I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do, or how I was going to get out of this mess.
Finally, I was constantly having to lie to those I cared about, telling them that everything was fine. It was exhausting keeping up that web of lies; trying to remember which untruth I had told to which person.
But I had to make a choice – face the reality of my life and own up to my actions, or keep up the happy image and madly try to figure it out from the inside.
Needless to say the happy image did really work. The self imposed isolation just made it worse and it drove me deeper into my escapism tactics. I remember telling my parents I was heading off to Uni for the day, and instead went to a park nearby and falling asleep to music on my phone. I spent 3 hours at the park until I felt it was enough time to look like I had been out. When I came back they asked all the usual questions about how it went, what grades was I getting for assignments – they just got lies in return. I’m certain they knew something was up at the time. I think everyone did.
Back to my computer till 3am.
But, this is all surface stuff. What was actually my problem? What simple reality was broken in me?
I’ve decided it was this:
I FELT THE WEIGHT OF LIVING A LIFE OF UNFULFILLED POTENTIAL.
I WAS NOT BEING WHO I COULD BE.
I WAS WASTING THE OPPORTUNITY TO BE TOM DUFF.
That wasting of my time, my gifts, my potential… my life, was poison. I was sick from it and slowly dying.
That choice I talked about before? Be honest about what’s happening or keep up appearances?
You could rewrite it like this:
Tom, life isn’t working for you right now.
So, you get to pick one of two things…
You can have safety from hard questions, safety from pain and rawness. Safety from being vulnerable about your struggles and inabilities. Safety from the chance to live a different life. Safety from the potential of failing…again.
– If you want this safety, keep doing your thing man! You’ve got this sorted out.
You can have change in your life. Change in how you feel waking up in the morning. Change from what you would like to do with your time. Change from seeing hope as a useless thing. Change for how your friends and family respect you. Change from fearing failure.
– If you want this change, you need to pull back the heavy curtains and talk to someone.
After years and years of choosing the first one, and having to find increasingly drastic ways of maintaining that safety, I stopped and asked for help. A dear friend was seeing a life coach and recommended I send her an email. Biting the bullet I wrote what I could.
Here’s the email that I sent:
I’m not really sure how to broach this subject so I’ll just dive on in.
It’s been a struggle for the last few years to positively engage with life and I’ve made a few attempts to seek some kind of assistance to varying degrees of success. I really don’t know how this process works, so feel free to contact me via email and let me know if there’s anything I need to do.”
After the first meeting this was my response to her:
“Our last meeting has hit pretty hard. I didn’t realise how much I had actually conceded that I was already a failure.”
I still remember that feeling, and probably always will. All of a sudden my self understanding had this incredible but horrifying clarity to it.
I had actually given up on myself. The weight of that guilt I felt had turned me into my own worst critic. I hated Tom Duff. I hated him so much that I was punishing him daily for who he was. Of course, I would punish myself with hate and loathing, and then proceeded to do the things that I hated about myself, in order to try and escape the feeling!
When I showered, I used to write myself these messages on the fogged up shower wall. The one I still remember went like this:
You’re a f*cking waste and you’re going to waste today. You will not achieve anything. F*ck you.
It was a vicious cycle, and on my own, in my room at 3am I was never going to break out of it.
That clarity I got from seeking help was the turning point. Perspective made that choice before even simpler…
KEEP THE GUILT AND ROT.
– OR –
SEEK HELP AND START LIVING