Hello, people! I took a semi-break from social media in order to concentrate on writing. But I’m back now and want to introduce you to someone. We’ve actually known each other for as long as I can remember, but lately, we’ve became reacquainted. Her name is Nellie. As in Negative Nellie, and she’s the voice in my head that tells me I’m terrible!
Let’s back up a sec.
First of all, I’m pretty sure everyone has a “Nellie.” I imagine artists and creative types can especially relate – maybe surgeons and airline pilots less so (I hope). But I think everyone (who is not a narcissist) has experienced feelings of anxiety, self-doubt, nagging insecurities, that “voice in your head” that tells you you’re not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, talented enough, young enough, you have no idea what you’re doing, you should just give up on whatever it is you’re trying to do… and so on. (Any of this sound familiar?)
There are periods in life when this voice gets louder and has more control over you, and other periods when the voice gets quieter, or you’re able to ignore it better.
Like for example, when I was younger and just starting out as a writer, I was often racked with these feelings of unworthiness, even when I was receiving accolades. And in romantic relationships? Fugghedaboutit. Basically, guys were dating Nellie.
An old therapist used to try and encourage me to self-soothe by just “observing” this black cloud of swirling insecurities (I hadn’t named her yet) that followed me everywhere I went. But that felt like observing my own shadow, and often like observing my own brain, which I wasn’t very good at. Back then, Nellie actually got me to do things, nothing terrible, things like send someone too many texts, or send an email when I shouldn’t have, or get upset about things that didn’t really matter.
Then, I don’t know, things changed. Maybe it’s growing up. I know for a fact that all the losses I’ve experienced have changed my perspective. I am more driven, care less about certain things, and have tried incredibly hard to balance out my internal anger towards the Universe with internal GRATITUDE. When you’ve lost a lot, you develop an “I have nothing more to lose” attitude towards life, because… you kinda don’t. And you tend to appreciate what you still do have even more.
BUT… Nellie never went away. With all the anxiety of this past year, she’s actually had a resurrection of sorts. The difference is that now I recognize this Bitch a mile away.
Let me describe Nellie to you. Contrary to what you might imagine, my Nellie is not a chain-smoking, mascara-smudged, hard-hearted stone-cold fox. She’s the opposite. She’s a demure, cardigan-wearing, passive-aggressive, hand-wringing worrier, who likes to knit or crochet when she’s really beside herself. She loves me, or she thinks she does. So, everything she says is “out of love” and “concern.” Her main concern is that I not get hurt or disappointed.
Typical conversations with Nellie begin with her gently saying something like, “Do you really think that’s a good idea?” or “Are you sure about that?” or “Maybe you should stop and reconsider the consequences…”
When she’s feeling especially righteous and full of conviction, Nellie will say things like, “Sweetie, you know I’m saying this only out of love for you, but I really think you should consider that you’re… too fat to wear that now… too old to pursue that particular career… not quite talented enough to finish that project… ” ETC. ETC.
And when she REALLY wants to crush my soul, she’ll pause her knitting and look at me from the corner of the room with a sad but loving look and say, “Dear, I think it’s time to face up to the fact that nobody actually likes you. They’re all just… pretending.”
Oh Nellie. Bless your heart.
What I’ve learned over the years is there’s no point in arguing with Nellie. She’s always going to be there, and she’s never going to change. She is, indeed, my shadow. And just like my shadow, she is also not in control. I am.
So, knowing that Nellie is a thing, and knowing her purpose, it’s easier to deal with her. Often, I do this by lovingly telling her to Shut The Fuck Up. Or hitting the MUTE button, so even though her lips are moving, no sound is coming out.
The truth is if I listened to Nellie, I’d never put myself out there as a writer. I’d never try or start anything new. Never finish anything. Never take any chances. Most importantly, I’d never listen to my TRUE VOICE.
My passionate, wild-haired, creative, burning-the-candle-at-both-ends, work-hard-play-hard, creative spirit who is in constant motion, sometimes jumping on imaginary horses and charging ahead, sometimes diving underwater and swimming amongst the coral, sometimes just sitting quietly in meditation listening to the chirping birds and wind rustling through the trees.
My creative spirit is free, bold, loud, courageous and strong – and no Negative Nellie could ever squash it. Deep down, I think Nellie knows this, which is her insecurity.
There’s power in recognizing that Nellie has no talent of her own, no purpose in life. She’s simply a vessel for FEAR. And her fear of failure is equal to her fear of success. It’s fear that motivates her. And that’s okay. As long as that I don’t let her fear control me.
So, I don’t mind Nellie so much anymore. I mean, sometimes she gets on my nerves, and (I won’t lie) occasionally she still gets the better of me. But most of the time, I’m able to ignore her.
I yell across the room, “Not today, Nellie!” To which, she shrugs and goes back to her knitting.