Have you ever had one of those moments — and it doesn’t have to be a single moment, it could be like a full fucking month of realizations charging into your brain like the Kool-Aid Man — where you realize that nothing in your life has played out the way you wanted it to, or the way you thought it would or should?
In those moments, you might feel naturally inclined to blame external circumstances, or bad luck, or other people*** for the shit storm you find yourself in. You might rage and curse and talk shit about how others have failed you, how if only X, Y, and Z hadn’t happened, you wouldn’t be in the position you’re in.
***A caveat to this, of course, is if you’re being physically or emotionally abused by another person: in those circumstances, the dynamics are far more complicated, must be addressed as such, and are not your fault. I don’t know enough about how to unpack or address these dynamics (within my own life, or on behalf of the lives of others) to talk or write about them at length, so I won’t.
What I’m talking about is your run-of-the-mill shit — the job you hate or maybe just resent, the relationship that’s going sideways, the friends you’ve neglected, the persona you’ve created and also resent, and the negative or flawed attitudes and approaches you have to the world around you. It’s really fucking easy, and actually kind of fun, to sit back and really stew in the question you’ve always asked yourself when you’re not happy with an outcome:
How the actual fuck did I get here?
But then, one day, things will fine tune themselves slightly and that question will shift to a declaration, an existential copy edit strong enough to make you realize that while you may had the best intentions along the way, and maybe even some successes and happiness, the current negative outcomes you’re experiencing aren’t explained by anything else other than yourself. “How the actual fuck did I get here?” becomes “I know exactly how the fuck I got here.”
And that, my friends, is when you know your bullshit has finally caught up with you.
I say this with compassion, as a fellow bullshitty person who has spent a very long time mired in her bullshitty bullshit. The reasons for remaining solidly entrenched in our own emotional and situational septic tanks are different for everyone. For me, if I’m being totally honest with myself, I think it was a defense mechanism. Up until a certain point in my life, I felt extremely sad and confused, certain that something was wrong with me but unable to figure out what the “something” actually was. In lieu of honoring the fact that I had a painful wound begging to soothed and healed, I created a persona for myself, one that has evolved over time. Perhaps not many of you reading know this, but around the time I started writing about body positivity and self-love (the thing that ultimately built my audience and career up until this point), I was traumatized and very mentally ill and agoraphobic and isolated and extremely fucking miserable and not particularly body positive at all. I liked the idea of radical body politics — but there is a big difference between being moved by something healing, and actually being able to use it to heal yourself. For a long time, I wrote from the perspective of the former publicly, while neglecting to implement it personally. And then, to my created persona’s delight, I started getting a lot of attention for it. My ability to self-express through my writing is so strong and so clear, I was able to sell a certain mindset to the people reading, without actually having to do the work of cultivating that mindset myself. This created another interesting and perilous layer of self-loathing: I felt affirmed and seen and celebrated, but I also felt guilty. Deep down, I knew I was full of shit. I’d read comments on my work while actively sobbing and wondering what it might be like to throw myself in front of a bus.
“Yas queen, we stan!” they said.
“OMG, thank you!” I replied, “Love yourself!”
“Today would be a great day to die,” I thought when I put down my phone.
Now, don’t be so black and white as to think that people who present themselves one way through their work and social media are somehow scamming you. It’s far more complicated than that, just like people are far more complicated than just being assholes vs. angels, problematic vs. righteous, inspiring vs. draining. I leaned into my bullshit persona not to cause harm, but because I believe the universe and my instincts knew I needed some kind of affirmation to survive, to literally resist the urge to kill myself. I also knew that it helped the people reading it, and therefore couldn’t possibly be all bad.
So, I kept at it. In fact, for quite some time I focused exclusively on my bullshit to avoid addressing anything else head on. It was pretty easy, too — after all, I had an audience. In fact, I often visualize my bullshit as a very tragic trained dolphin at Sea World, following along behind a heavily damaged beach ball of a human being, trying to keep it above water. Someone really needs to take the ball away from the dolphin and repair it, but the ball is far enough from the eyes of the audience that no one really knows there’s anything wrong — and everyone’s having a great time watching the bullshit dolphin keep things going, and the bullshit dolphin is kind of having fun, too.
So that’s my bullshit. Maybe yours is like mine. Maybe it’s totally different. The point is, we all have it, and it’s extraordinarily easy to let it take control of your life and allow it to dictate how you approach decisions, relationships, and yourself. I’ve allowed myself to be propped up by my bullshit for years, and when things got weird or bad or hard, I often asked myself how that question we all do: how the fuck did I get here?
Of course, the reason I’m saying all this is because, as I mentioned, I see very clearly how I got here. Unfortunately, it’s only come to me after everything I thought I was working toward and executing well or at the very least maintaining in a healthy way, has fallen apart. I’ve made multiple extreme decisions in my professional life (decisions I do not regret, but certainly did not have to be that extreme or chaotic), neglected to process deeply traumatic past relationships and their continued effects, refused to acknowledge that I had no boundaries with people who were undeserving of my time and attention, and inadvertently hurt people I really love and care about by being so mired in my own bullshit, I couldn’t tune in to reality, set limits, and do my part to contribute to healthier dynamics.
I don’t say all of this to self-flagellate, or to take all the blame in any one of these situations. Again, life is all about nuance; there are so many different ways we fail each other, and ourselves and it’s not about placing or accepting blame, really. However, I think it’s important to be accountable for what you’re accountable for, to embrace that accountability instead of fear it, to feel like trash for your part in all of it and find a way to make peace with feeling like trash. Unfortunately, this is something that usually only happens when you become just self-aware enough to try just a bit harder to transcend all of it. It’s the moment when the damaged beach ball of a human being you are finally gets bopped just hard enough and subsequently catches just enough air to make it over the side of the tank to be collected and repaired. In the meantime, the bullshit dolphin remains unaware that the ball is gone and just starts swimming into a wall over and over again until it finally knocks itself out and drowns.
It’s sad, I know, but here’s the good part: once the ball is fixed, it stays above water all on its own and you realize you never needed the bullshit dolphin in the first place. It all finally caught up you and fell away, and now your only job is to figure which direction you’re going to float next, without any of the bullshit behind you.