Sometimes I just can’t force myself to do certain things, even if I don’t understand why not, and no one else can understand why not. But I’ve learned to trust that internal voice telling me that I’m not ready, or that I’m going down the wrong path, or that I won’t be able to do what’s being asked of me. I’ve learned to listen for the intensity of the I Don’t Wanna voice, because that can help me figure out if I can overcome it, or if I shouldn’t even try to overcome it.
The problem has been that my therapist (and teachers and friends) can’t hear that voice, and they don’t trust me to assess its accuracy on my own, and they tell me, meaning well, that I should ignore it and do what needs to be done, whether I want to or not, and whether I think I can do it or not. They think I can and should ignore the I Don’t Wanna voice, because they think of it as selfish, or self-destructive, or weak, or whatever else they say to themselves about their own I Don’t Wanna voices. And I hear their judgements and their impatience and their distrust of me, and it feels bad, but that doesn’t change what I can and can’t do.
But I’ve noticed, over time, that the better I get at hearing and trusting the I Don’t Wanna voice, the more clearly I can begin to hear the I Wanna voice. It turns out that I wanna teach synagogue school, even though I don’t know why. I can’t explain it, especially after spending three and a half years and a lot of money getting a degree in social work. And I wanna take online Hebrew classes, even though I can’t see the logic in it, or make a good argument for why this is the right good step forward in my life. I just know that the I wanna voice keeps getting stronger the more that I listen to it and trust that it knows what it’s talking about.
I was better at hearing these voices when I was a kid: when I knew I wanted chocolate frosting but not the cake it was sitting on, or I knew I wanted to do more math homework, even if I never got extra credit for it. But I was told so many times not to listen to myself and just do what I was supposed to do: eat what I was supposed to eat, take the classes I was supposed to take, accept the friendships I was offered; and never trust my feelings to tell me what was best. And as a result, I lost track of the I Wanna and I Don’t Wanna voices, and for a long time all I could hear was what other people wanted me to do, and their endless judgments when I couldn’t live up to those expectations, and my own confusion about why I couldn’t do what I was supposed to be able to do.
It has been a very long road back to hearing, and trusting, my own internal voices, and it’s still a struggle. There’s so much more than the I Wanna and I Don’t Wanna voices to listen to, but they all seem to crash around in my head at once, becoming noise without much meaning. I’ve been working so hard on Intuitive Eating for the past year and a half, endlessly trying to hear these subtle voices of hunger and fullness before they become shouts, instead of relying on what I think I should eat to please the diet gods, whoever they may be on a given day. But I still fall into the abyss, almost every day, thinking that my own feelings are untrustworthy and selfish and self-destructive and should be ignored. But, in favor of what?
I guess I’ve reached the point in the journey where I know there’s no other path to follow, even though I still feel all of the guilt and self-loathing for not being able to do what I’m supposed to do. I’ve accepted that I have real limitations and I’ve learned to trust them, instead of pushing forward anyway and just waiting for the inevitable disaster. One sign that I’m on the right track is that even though I still have a lot of anxiety, it’s been a long time since I’ve had an actual panic attack, or even a deep dive into depression.
Part of the internal noise I keep having to fight with is that I so desperately want to be a rational creature, with explanations for everything I do and don’t do, but given how much I don’t understand (about myself, about the world, about science and math and the energies in the universe), sometimes my gut feelings are the only map I have left to follow. I wish I could say that I understand how all of the levers and pulleys of my brain work, and that I know for sure that I’m interpreting my thoughts and feelings correctly, but I can’t. All I can do is keep listening for the I Wanna and I Don’t Wanna voices, as they whisper to me, and show them, through my actions, that I am trustworthy, and that if I choose to ignore them, I have good reasons.
I wish the guilt and self-loathing would shut up already, but I guess they count as internal voices too, at this point. They may have come from the outside to start with, but they are part of my gears and wires now and I need to find a way to respect them too.
If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.
Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?