I hate it when I’m standing at the cash register, having finished the transaction and the cashier hands me the receipt. The process of folding up the paper and putting it in my wallet seems to take forever and my anxiety rises. I don’t want to try and jam it in my wallet as I walk away, juggling my purchases, but I imagine I can feel the impatience of the cashier and the people behind me in line as I take five seconds for myself. I feel so apologetic, like I’m committing a heinous act. How dare I take the time to finish my transaction when it so obviously and egregiously impacts others? How can I justify wasting their time?
This is just another variant of the “have you earned your air today” state of mind that I live with. Who am I to think I have a right to exist, take up time, and take up space?
The mindset behind it is one of worthlessness. I consider myself to be worth less than the people around me. They are obviously better people and deserving of extreme consideration and deference. Not because of anything they’ve done, but because they’re not me.
I should obviously give way to those who are not-me. I should defer, give ground, and back down. I’m not as valuable, not as important, and my needs are obviously less relevant. What was I thinking, trying to do something when it might inconvenience someone else? I should always put others ahead of myself.
This is a difficult and erroneous mindset to live with.
There’s nothing wrong with being kind or polite. There’s nothing wrong with holding the door to let someone in ahead of you or letting the person behind you to step ahead when they only have two things to purchase. There’s nothing wrong with it if it comes from a good place. If it comes from a place of desperation and worthlessness, however, from a need to not be noticed, not make waves, and not exist, then it becomes problematic.
The way I am out in the world is problematic. I feel like I’m a nuisance simply by showing up. I feel like I have to stand aside and not make trouble in order for it to be okay for me to be there.
I’m that way in my day to day life at home as well. Simply being is not enough. Earn your air. I keep a running list in my head of all the “productive” things I’ve done, all the ways in which I’ve proven myself valuable. I detail it in my journal as well.
Made my bed and cleaned my bathroom today. Vacuumed and dusted. Weeded part of the back lawn. Did some writing. Read a “worthwhile” book. Exercised. A good day.
I did stuff. I earned my air. I struggle to believe I’ve earned it when I’m out in the world, interacting with the other humans. I feel like I’m on sufferance, like I have to constantly prove my existence is not a problem.
That’s why the seconds I spend stuffing the receipt into my wallet at the end of a transaction bother me. There’s a risk that people behind me in line will discover my essential uselessness. I’m pissing them off. I’m creating a delay. What must they be thinking of me? I bet they’re sorry I’m here.
It’s a false belief, of course. We’re all valuable; I’m not taking up space that would be better occupied by someone else. I’m entitled to air. I’m entitled to a life. I don’t have to apologize for my existence. I tell myself those things over and over every day. Attribution through repetition. If I tell myself I’m worth it often enough, it will probably, at some point, start to sink in. Then I won’t feel apologetic asking for a fitting room or awkward when I take a few seconds for myself at the end of a transaction before I’m ready to walk away.
We’re all entitled to be here; we’re all allowed to take up space.