Friday at the office, I had another of those eerie INTJ conversations with the only other INTJ I know in non-internet space, a male colleague and work friend (who, in addition to being an INTJ, is, also like me, afflicted with self-diagnosed and highly functioning ADD). You know, the kind of talk where one of us starts describing our state of mind and the thought processes that led to it, and the other says “change the nouns and you are describing my brain right now.” We were talking about how right now, in our work and the sort of work that goes into your personal life (chores, hobbies, etc.), we’re battling anxiety and depression that are caused, in part, by the feeling of spinning wheels – of not accomplishing anything.
INTJs derive self-esteem from essentially two places: being good at things and achieving things. When neither of those are happening at a particular point in time then an INTJ essentially has no self-esteem, because they have nothing from which to draw positive feelings about their greater self.
For example, I don’t find it much of a compliment to be told I’m smart or I’m pretty, because those are qualities I was born with, they are inherent to my being, and no matter what I do or do not do (within reason, of course!) I will always have those traits. So, eh, thanks, but really tell my parents because their genes are what’s being praised. But if someone says something I DID was great – whether a piece of writing, or a cosplay, or just a complicated analysis that I did at the office – then I feel truly complimented, because I DID THAT. It wasn’t just my natural state of being that I have no control over, but something that was worthy of praise because of positive actions that I undertook.
So right now, I am in a funk because I feel like I am not accomplishing anything, and I also feel like I am underperforming at all of my various life roles. To quote an email to a friend: “I feel like a shitty mother because someone else is raising my kid, a shitty employee because the baby constantly makes me late and leaves me with no energy for the job, a shitty wife because I am grumpy and pissed off all the time, a shitty chatelaine because I never have time or energy to clean, a shitty daughter/granddaughter/friend because I don’t often have the energy to call and when I do I don’t want to call because I’d either have to admit I’m depressed or pretend I’m not, and a shitty writer because I simply never write anymore.” It doesn’t really matter to my INTJ brain what society expects of a working mother with an 8-month-old baby; it doesn’t matter if the people in my life are cutting me slack. What matters is that I am not being good at anything, and I’m damn sure not ACCOMPLISHING anything better than survival. It is incredibly disheartening. I do not like not having something to feel good about. I do not like feeling overwhelmed and really uncertain how to fix it, because so much of what is causing the problem is beyond my control.
I spent this week getting slapped in the face with the fact that I am in a bit of a depression, which I had been avoiding recognizing for a while now. It happened because I decided one of my “resolutions” would be to get healthier physically and get back on my losing weight trajectory. (The baby weight is off; has been off for months. I am, however, still 20-40 pounds over my acceptable-ideal weights, have been for years, have been admonished by both regular doctor and OB to get some of it off especially before pregnancy #2, and was in the process of losing some of it when I got pregnant with baby boy.) The way I decided to start was not dieting per se (not cutting calories dieting) but just cutting out junk. I have been at it a whole week, and by the end of the week I was FLOORED to realize just how much I eat my emotions. Feeling stressed? Have some cookies. Upset because I can’t concentrate at work? More cookies. Tired and in need of a pick-me-up? Cookies. No wonder breastfeeding a ravenous little boy wasn’t doing anything after getting me back to starting weight! And in denying myself the outlet of comfort calories, I had to confront the fact that I was feeling really negative things on a DAILY BASIS (sometimes multiple times per day) and that I had, frankly, no idea how to deal with those feelings OTHER than eating. Like…whoa. Whoa damn. Then I started thinking about why I’m feeling stressed out and upset all the time, and it comes down to being exhausted most of the time (having a baby who wakes up 4-6 times a night every night will do that!) and trying to do all the things I was doing before the baby came in addition to spending most of my time at home looking after the baby or playing with him. So here I am, spinning in circles, barely managing to keep the dishes washed and myself in clean underwear, functioning poorly at work, not writing, not spending any time – and I do mean ANY time – on myself. It’s enough to drive anyone to despair, but my personality type is especially poorly suited to being happy in “survival mode.”
Why? Because there is no sense of achievement or accomplishment. I cannot point to anything I’ve done and say “I am doing this well” (*maybe* I could say I’m a good mom, for a working mom, but that’s it, and such a bare-necessity level of achievement that I can’t feel proud of it, like…WHAT ELSE COULD I POSSIBLY DO EXCEPT BE THE BEST MOM I CAN?!). I cannot look at my day to day or week to week or even month to month activities and say “I have accomplished this task or achieved that goal.” There is nothing for me to use to judge my self-worth against; I have a yardstick and nothing to measure.
I have blogged before about my need to create a sense of task accomplishment in order to feel good about a long project. Right now, my long project is life, and I have no sense of task accomplishment, only the eternal recurrence of days spent on nothing beyond the daily tasks of existing.
I did hit an interesting breaking point with respect to writing. It was this combination of despair and exhaustion and Adam Carolla’s point that “if you really want to do something, you DO IT” and thinking about my favorite song from my favorite band’s experimental album, wherein they wrote and recorded a new song every day for a week – at the end of it came one last song, written, they admitted, from that broken place when you can’t try anymore and sometimes things just well up. I just realized that if I don’t find some way to write in the evenings after a day at work, no matter how tired I am mentally and physically, then I will literally not write for the next 3-6 years. Did I want to write, or didn’t I? If I did, I needed to just do it. So I turned on my computer in that desolate place – drained, empty, desperate, disbelieving, and above all too stubborn to just quit. The first night I wrote four words. But it was four more than I would have otherwise. The next I wrote 339. We’ll see if I can continue. If I can, maybe that can be my sense of task accomplishment: “I wrote something today.”
For now that might even be enough.