I felt guilty the other day about having too much fun playing WoW. Yes that’s right – I felt guilty about having fun. So much so that it triggered a solemn heart to heart with my husband. He loves it when I do that. He’s usually happily getting on with something and I turn up full of angst and all my neuroses.
I do of course know where this guilt complex comes from – although my mother will probably kill me for sharing if she ever finds out. It comes from when I was younger. I was regarded as a “high achiever” as a child, basically from the moment I did something clever in front of the health visitor with some plastic letters (spelled out something profound in Latin perhaps while all my friends were busy stuffing the letters up their noses). Don’t get too grand an idea though …once my mother was in an argument with my father—which I overheard from my position at the top of the stairs (not at all eavesdropping)– and said, “Everyone knows Shell is a scholar.” I wasn’t that much of a scholar though because it was the first time I’d heard that particular word and I thought she meant “scallop” – I slunk away deeply confused but with an odd craving for sea food.
Anyway I digress. Basically I was always praised for working hard and achieving good results and I became very obsessed about it. I genuinely do not know what I would have done if I hadn’t had a first class honours in my degree. It was all or nothing with me. Everything always is. I know this isn’t healthy but I also know this is me. It’s part of the package.
I still dream I’m preparing for exams and haven’t revised enough. I guess most of us do. But in my dreams there’s this dawning realisation that all that’s over now – that I’ve left school, that I’m working, that I don’t need to memorise all the ins and outs of the Treaty of Versailles anymore. And lately in those dreams I ask my mother permission to stop revising and amazingly she says yes and laughs as if it’s a silly question. And I am so relieved. But once I dreamt she was burying all my revision material in the back garden along with a dead body and I was furious that she was contaminating my stuff with a dead body. I immediately retrieved my books to bury them somewhere else. A very weird dream and almost physically exhausting what with all the digging.
Anyway growing up I found the way to please was to get all As. The way to displease was to come 2nd in class (particularly if L my greatest rival beat me) or get a B+ or just seem to my parents “not to have that drive anymore.” That was the worst sin of all. I had to be the best and be seen to always want to be the best. I couldn’t let that slip. So I often felt guilty about watching TV or any form of relaxation because I was scared that it would suggest I was less than fully committed to my work. The results themselves weren’t enough – I had to show visibly that it was all consuming. Eventually it even got too much for my mother and step father. They would beg me to take a break from my studies – they would tell me a half hour off would be good for me. I even once remember by step father telling me I could probably afford to take the weekend off. I was aghast! That was unthinkable. By then it was too late – it was part of my core self to feel guilty every time I stopped working.
And if there was ever a moment when all my work had finished – exams over and all essays submitted, then the OCD would kick in. The more I tried to wind down the more my brain would tell me to get up and straighten the mat, dust the table 16 times, write out a list of all the reasons why I shouldn’t worry about whether a person looked at me funny the other day. It was always so exhausting. I remember one day telling my mother I wished I would break my leg or just get ill. When – horrified – she asked me why I said it was so I could lie on the sofa and sleep all day. She told me it sounded like I was very tired which I think, without sounding too harsh, was the understatement of the year.
Why am I talking about this now? Well it’s just that I’ve been really enjoying WoW lately but with that comes all the old guilt again. I work really hard at my job but cannot escape the guilt I feel at coming home and, after having some food, going on WoW to relax. The more I enjoy it – the guiltier I feel. I think I was happier having all the bad runs and aggro (literally and metaphorically). Perhaps that made it seem more like a job! The more I’ve enjoyed playing and gaining achievement, mounts, levelling, seeing new dungeons (I’ve discovered I haven’t done half the Burning Crusade dungeons- went in Magister’s Terrace for the first time yesterday) then the more guilty I’ve become. And I don’t want to be. This is something both my husband & I enjoy, but I also have time for family, reading, exercise, my dog etc. And as I’ve said I work very hard (see I must convince you of that fact or that’ll be another three hours of stress) and I’m totally committed to my job. So why am I guilty about something that gives me pleasure? Would I feel the same if this was a more “conventional” hobby? I don’t know. Certainly there is generally more acceptance about certain hobbies but since I never had hobbies when I was younger (it was all studying or reading) I suspect I’d feel the same. To play is in my head to be less than you should be, to fail to live up to expectations, to let yourself down. And there’s a part of me that still secretly applauds this attitude of mine even though I know the stress and anxiety it causes me. I wonder at the end of my life will I look back and be happy at all the studying and work I’ve done or will I wish for something else? I hope at least I’m holding my husband’s hand because in all this he’s the only one that has tried to teach me that life can be much so more than I once thought – that you can have fun without being a disappointment to all who matter. But good and patient teacher though he is I’m a difficult student – and in this case not a high achiever at all.