On Being Selfish

The other day, I paid an extra $49 to have this mammoth sit/stand desk delivered from IKEA to my door-step, and I spent all evening putting it together. Until… I got to the point where the hieroglyphic instructions show TWO PEOPLE smiling as they breezily lift the desk up from opposite ends and flip it over. I bet they put this stupid desk together in 15 minutes with sheer teamwork, love and support.

FUCK YOU, STICK FIGURE POWER COUPLE!!!

Surely this is just a suggestion, and I can totally do this by myself, I thought, as an image flashed into my mind of 5 minutes into the future—where I’m covered in bruises and standing over a once-pristine, dented-to-all-fuck white laminate desk; the nude hardwood floors scratched up and covered in the remains of my innocent new spider plant that 100 percent got biffed half-way across the room during the epic struggle. I have been here before, and I would very much enjoy not being here again.

So I do the thing that I hate doing SO MUCH. I text a friend to ask for help. Kay, an ANGEL, walks 40 minutes to my place on a cold, dark Sunday night, helps me put the rest of the desk together, and then helps me flip the thing over without destroying my apartment, just like in the picture. Then she walks the 40 minutes home, risking a ticket from the police, because we have both forgotten about the curfew.

Yes we have a $%##**@% CURFEW IN MONTREAL. Anyway.

I’m lying in my bed after she leaves, looking at this Giant. White. Laminate. Desk. Why didn’t I just pay the extra $250 for real wood and a freaking motor, so all I have to do is push a button to raise it up and down, instead of turning a damn crank like a caveman?! (I just counted, it takes 80 turns of the crank to get from standing to sitting. 80!!!) Oh god and I have a cat!!! How did I not think of this?? Every time he jumps up on this plastic piece of shit, he’s going to scratch it, making it impossible to re-sell for anything more than “FREE” on Kijiji. Ugh and my new year’s resolution was to “buy less, and buy used…” now here I am buying a NEW thing that’s just going to end up in a landfill in 15 years!!!

I HAVE TO RETURN IT.

And with this thought, comes a whole new flood of panic. I’m going to have to take this whole thing apart, even though I burnt out the screws putting them in as tight as humanly possible, and I’m going to have to get it all back into the boxes that I absolutely destroyed like a 5-year old on Christmas, and I’m going to have to carry it all out to a car that I have to rent, and then I have to drive on that awful highway to Hell IKEA for the millionth time since I moved, and then I’m going to have to wait in that long line for returns, and then… the person might take one look at the piece of “wood” that I’ve screwed EXTRA HOLES into for a cable organizer, and say, “Nope. Can’t accept this.” And then I’m going to have to take it allll back home, and put it allll back together, with the shitty screws that have no desire to screw anymore and NO THIS IS NOT A METAPHOR FOR MY LIFE. And it’s not even all this that’s causing me the most anxiety… it’s the knowledge that no sane person would do all of this alone.

I’m going to have to ask another friend for help.

Why do I hate asking for help, SO MUCH?? And here’s where things get ugly. Because I think I know the answer, and I don’t like it. It’s not because I’m such a good person that I don’t want to burden any of my dear friends who already have so much shit on their plates. It’s because I’m not entirely sure that I would offer the same service in return. If I do EVERYTHING all by myself—put together all my IKEA furniture, make my own chicken soup when I’m sick, comfort myself when I’m down with heavy blankets and a single medium-sized DQ blizzard delivered via UBER from the other side of town—I never need to feel guilty for not offering these things to others. The more I ask for help, the more I have to confront a very uncomfortable truth.

I’m selfish.

At least, this is the track that’s been playing in my head at all waking hours of the day, for years. How could I possibly help others, when I’m such a mess? I need to fix myself first, and THEN I’ll have the bandwidth to help others. This is how I justify my non-actions.

I’m not quite sure when this track started playing, because when I was a kid, I used to fill up mom’s entire jumbo-sized joke stocking at Christmas, so she’d have presents to open too. I used to make her food—or at least, my kid-interpretation of food—a 12-layer sandwich made out of the entire loaf of bread and a healthy scoop from every single jar in the fridge—bringing it up to her room to make sure she ate, because she often didn’t. One time at school, this girl Alice with short red curly hair accidentally threw her beloved plastic Power Rangers toy in the garbage, and I spent the entire 30-minute recess digging through the giant trash bins in the cafeteria, sifting through mayonnaise-covered crusts and loose Alphagetti soup until I found it—rinsing it off in the bathroom and triumphantly marching it out to her on the playground. It was the best feeling in the world.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago, when Kay—my angel of a friend who helped with the desk—HAD CANCER and I didn’t visit her when she was in the hospital. This fact haunts me like the fish sauce I spilled behind my oven to this day. At the time, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship; and ironically, I was exhausting myself doing sweet things for him—cooking and cleaning and buying gifts and writing whiny love poems—in a desperate attempt to make him love me as much as he seemed to right at the beginning. I was giving and giving and giving, and getting nothing in return. He was the selfish one. Not me. Nope.

But as he coldly pointed out one day when he came home to a kitchen full of baked goods and healthy food for his packed lunches, “You’re not doing this out of love. You’re doing it because you’re expecting something in return.” As hurtful as this was at the time, he wasn’t wrong. I wasn’t giving, I was chasing.

Rather than visiting my dear friend in the hospital who would do anything for me, here I am busting my ass for someone who’s treating me like shit. WHY?!? Because it’s not about them, it’s about ME. Kay already loves me: Check. Boy does not love me: URGENT. *Red sirens blaring* In need of intensive repair! MUST be FIXED at ALL COSTS!! “I’ve just got too much going on in my life to be there for Kay right now,” I told myself. “I’m an anxious mess. I need to save this relationship.” Plus, the hospital was like 1.5 hours away on public transit. Yes I’m a horrible person.

Thank goodness Kay is now cancer-free, and the only asshole in my life is my own. But yet, chaos still seems to follow me everywhere, giving me an amazing excuse for not bringing meals to a friend who had serious back surgery, putting her out of commission for 3 months. Sending a care package to my childhood bestie in Ottawa who’s been giving everything she has as a nurse for the last 2 years. Checking in on a friend who struggles with serious depression. Even just calling my aunt back on my birthday.

“I’m going through a breakup.” “I’m moving, the toilet is broken, and I’m shitting into plastic grocery bags.” “I’m working up an audition.” “I lost the audition.” “I’m just in like, a really weird headspace right now.” “I don’t know what I’m doing with my life.” “I got locked out of my apartment for 3 hours in hole-y pajamas and had to borrow clothing from the girl at the bakery to cover my literal ass so I could run to my friend’s house to get a spare set of keys but oh wait they were the wrong keys, and…” It goes on, and on, and on; backward and forward through time to infinity. (The silver lining is that I never run out of material to write about)

What if the problem isn’t that I’m a mess, and I won’t be able to help others until I’ve “fixed” myself. What if the problem… is that I BELIEVE that I am a mess, and I won’t be able to help others until I’ve “fixed” myself?

What if I’m already pretty fucking solid?!?!?

What if…

This shitty IKEA laminate desk is actually perfect: inexpensive, versatile, stylish—and big enough to hold all of my music production gear, AND my cat. Moving into a new place is really fun and exciting! Everything doesn’t need to get done RIGHT NOW. I lost that audition because something way better is coming my way. I don’t need to prove my worth as an artist by endlessly churning out new work. My friends are happy to help when I ask. They’re not keeping tabs on how much who helped who, they simply help because they love me, and love being around me.

What if I am a wonderful friend, who will drop what I’m doing or stop freaking the fuck out about whatever it is I’m freaking the fuck out about when someone really needs me, because I know, that what I’m doing isn’t really that important in the grand scheme of things.

I’ve been tormenting myself for years, wondering why I’m so selfish and trying to figure out HOW I can STOP BEING so GODDAMN SELFISH… but what if it’s as simple as just… deciding that I am not selfish? That there is no need to be so self-absorbed, because there is nothing about me that I need to fix.

If I sit still, and allow myself to really believe this for a moment; I feel this incredible, deep relaxation spread through my body. My energy goes from “frenetic-space-circus” to “board-games-by-candlelight-during-a-power-outage.” And this is a place from which I already have the bandwidth to be there for other people.

I’m keeping the damn desk, btw.

2 thoughts on “On Being Selfish

  1. I appreciate this post a lot. We all have complicated, contradictory feelings about things, people and situations and you’ve done a great job of explaining yours.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We are all made differently and are able to offer different things to our friends. Not being there is not about being selfish but about being enough. The people who are your friends appreciate and love you as you are.
    Writing is definitely another of your things to give. ♥️

    Liked by 1 person

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