the power of guilt

Guilt is a powerful bastard. It becomes a more powerful bastard as you age, gain more responsibilities and grow painfully aware of your many shortcomings which are not likely to change.

Guilt can command and overpower rational thoughts.

“I’m sorry I’m rubbish I’m sorry I’m useless pathetic. Ok you don’t like it when I talk like that I know, sorry sorry sorry. A sorry excuse for a…”

It can distress and paralyse and cause serious anxiety. There’s little you can do or say to overcome it.

Because life is this ever-fluid, malleable, unknowable thing.  Unless you’re mega rich or comfortably retired, it is not solid and unmoving. You can’t know what will happen in the future, and right now the world is a particularly scary place with uncertainties piling upon uncertainties.

Worries over sketchy work and financial situations are unlikely to be helped by news headlines dominated by Brexit fears, interest rates, the crashing pound, inflation, the gig economy, stunted wages and the cost of living. No. All that stuff makes it much much worse.

I wrestle with big guilt on a daily basis. My wife contributes much more to our unit. While we split the mortgage and bills down the middle, or at least we have done until now, she earns considerably more money, buys most of the shopping, and is out of the house a lot more.  She has the extra padding of more savings (thanks in part to dead parents), on top of a reasonable paycheck each month and financial predictability.  I’ve virtually forgotten what this must be like, (but it must be amazing). I have the padding of comfortably-off alive parents upon whom I can always call for help, but personal pride tends to muddy that.

She has a life outside of work and me, largely revolving around her running club and socialising with club members. I don’t. I can’t afford and don’t feel I deserve one anyway. I have the dog and a slightly indulgent, free but neuroses-packed lifestyle. We don’t go on holidays, we don’t go to pubs or restaurants.  I stay in and try not to spend any money on anything. This succeeds in the main because I’ve always been fairly good with money and being tight with myself. Netflix, Spotify, a modest amount of booze just about covers me for entertainment.

Sometimes I think she’d be well within her rights to give me a harder time.

“Come on now. You’ve given freelance life a good go. Give up, grow up and go get some boring office job you’ll hate but will at least give us some semblance of financial stability. It could allow us to enjoy life more as a couple. We could go on modest holidays or little breaks, perhaps visit a restaurant now and again. Wouldn’t it be worth it? Which kind of ‘freedom’ works best for you? So you’d just have to tolerate an office five days a week, like most people in the world. If you could find a job, that is, which granted might not be easy but you could at least start looking and applying for things. You never know.”

But I don’t get any of that from her. Instead she gives me a bewildering amount of support and I feel immensely guilty because I don’t feel I deserve it.

Complementing guilt is fear: fear for the near, medium and long term futures, what we can and cannot achieve with limited funds due to my being such an inadequate man.  Fear of major costs: car repair, boiler repair, something going wrong with the house, new mortgage repayments, a… a child?

We had an intruder garden-hopping out the back a few weeks ago. He tried to break into our neighbours’ shed and I’m fairly sure I saw him casually sauntering off down and adjacent street, probably after nipping over the fence and through our garden. Now, whenever I hear any noise out the back in the middle of the night, I am quickly awake and alert and worried. Of course it could be a cat or a fox or a bird but I am nervous anyway, thinking of worst case scenarios, someone breaking into our house, stealing the dog, attacking us in our bed. Could this be mixed up with my own personal fears, guilt, insecurities, how they are always closer to the surface and most vulnerable in the middle of the night?

There’s plenty for which I should be grateful and am. My wife, house, dog, freedom, general lifestyle. You can call it a trade-off, swings and roundabouts. I have all that and I don’t have to spend five days per week in a miserable office pandering to an idiot CEO I have never respected. But equally, if I don’t want to play that game maybe I shouldn’t whine so much about earning very little and having to weather such financial and psychological turbulence.

Shortly after finishing the first draft of these words I secured a biggish job. While not a life-changer, it could be a two-monthish changer, giving me the ability to breathe a little easier in the run up to Christmas.

As the criminally underrated philosopher Ronan Keating once said: “Life is a rollercoaster, just got to ride it.”

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