Not me

I’ve not been feeling myself for quite some time.  Not ill, just bad-tempered and grouchy, and not all the time by any means; rather, my background levels of happiness seemed to have slipped somehow.  I’ve been impatient, snappy and less inclined to think the best of people.  Probably you haven’t even noticed, but the Lovely Melanie has, and I have to the point of beginning to think about going to the doctor’s about it.

I have no idea what’s been causing it, but with hindsight it’s been going on for at least a couple of years.  When imagining scenarios or encounters with friends or loved ones they have of late tended to turn into worst-case scenarios. I would imagine what I would say to a friend or loved one whose imagined behaviour was “against” me.

When I say “against me” me I don’t want to sound paranoid, because I’m not; rather my imagined simulation of them would never be as nice, generous or warm-hearted as they are in real life.  In my head people would be argumentative, impatient and unsympathetic.  In fact, they were becoming more like I felt I was becoming.

Sorry to spring this on you now. Believe me, I know it’s rather come from nowhere.

Anyway, the main thing is I was worried about becoming less easy-going, less patient, perpetually on edge and harassed; basically less and less like… me.  Which is why I was beginning to wonder about seeing a doctor.

But to say what?  “I’m a bit grumpy?  I imagine the worst in people instead of the best“?  And this week seemed to be worse than ever.

But thinking on the train on the way to work yesterday – which is where I get most of my thinking done – I was reading Slavoj Zizek’s First As Tragedy, Then As Farce, which is about as far from being a self-help manual as you can get (it’s a philosophical critique of modern capitalism and our current economic plight).  And whilst reading it a light bulb almost seemed to come on in my head.

Zizek’s book discusses the need to look at things from a different perspective, to think about your basic assumptions and challenge them.  Which seemed applicable to my current situation.

So I thought about my current situation.  I thought about the way I’ve been living my life the past year or two and the way I’d felt harassed and off-balance, always playing catch-up with no time to reflect.  I’ve felt pressured trying to do all the things I wanted, read all the books, watch all the films, see all the people and spend all the time with my family that I wanted.  I hadn’t thought about this stuff strategically, shall we say, I’d just been struggling to try and keep up and only thinking tactically, i.e., looking only at the short-term.

And I thought about it all the way into work.

Getting weighed down with worries about somehow “keeping up”, being frightened that I wasn’t clever enough for my job, spending too much time tinkering with computers on my own instead of enjoying the company of family and friends.

And I remembered the three guidelines to live by I’d formulated a few years back, and realised I was no longer living by those rules.

Stu’s guidelines for living a happy life

  1. Don’t be petty or small-minded.
  2. Keep your curiosity about everything.
  3. Always assume the best about people unless you have good reason not to.

and I formulated a fourth rule: Don’t be frightened of things that can’t hurt you.

And the things that can’t hurt you include your work.

I realised I was tired of being frightened that maybe I can’t do my job; tired of worrying that I was going to fail at it, tired of being dragged down by worry that I’m not clever enough.  That’s no way to live your life, and even if it turns out I’m not clever enough (and I think I probably am clever enough) then that’s not a catastrophe; it’s not going to kill me; if need be I can just leave that job and get another.

Simple as that.

And I realised I needed to stop worrying about this crazy idea of  “keeping up”.  I need to just do what you can – what makes you happy – and that’s enough.

Writing it down like this it seems embarrassingly simplistic, but remembering those four rules meant that my metaphorical light bulb stayed on at work all day.

24 hours later and it’s still on and I’m feeling more like my old self: more content, more patient…just…better.

It’s a bit spooky, to be honest.  There was no magic wand I waved, no astonishing insight, and most probably this is just a passing thing, but I hope not.

I’m a bit nervous about posting this entry, if I’m honest.  It’s very personal and I haven’t spoken about this with anyone previously…


  1. This is very interesting and the message is not so different from the one I got from an old acquaintance when we met up again recently – only he got to it by a much scarier route. Since I last saw him, more than ten years ago, he had become an alcoholic, attempted suicide and then made a big recovery, after which he ‘found’ poetry (thank God he didn’t find God instead). He summed it all up by saying that his big mistake before was trying to measure success according to work. Made me think.


    • Thanks, Graham. Funnily enough, the one person I know who became a real alcoholic also judged himself according to work and how much money he earned…

      I’ve never judged myself by work and I’ve never been the slightest bit concerned about having a career either; I only ever wanted a job that paid me well enough to enjoy myself without having to worry about it outside of the workplace. People who work themselves into the ground and define themselves by their career have always seemed by turns amusing and rather tragic to me (although, interestingly, I don’t see the academics I know in a similar light…)


  2. Hey Stu…

    I wrote a post a little bit like this awhile back and you put a great comment on mine, so I thought I would recycle that and send it back to ya…

    “Hang in there kid… its just a ride :D”


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