The freedom of self-forgetfulness

I started and quit another full-time job. After the two week training, I worked one full day and was like: oops. Apparently I need to try all the jobs before learning (again) that I can’t work full-time.


Every time I try to work a full-time job, my brain wigs out. I get all intensely stressed, break out in hives and psoriasis, start thinking everyone is mad at me and then my vision goes blurry and I feel like fainting. It’s like my brain overheats or something.

I’m a great starter, though! I'm full of passion! excitement! and can-do-attitude!

But I'm an even better quitter. To that end, I’ve put together a handy little list of tips for quitting your job with panache, with flair, with wild abandon. Feel free to steal these tips and use them yourself. They're guaranteed to make you feel less alone in this cold, dark, lonely world.

  1. Apply for a job everyone says is not a good fit for you.
  2. Apply for it anyway because darnit, people can’t tell YOU what to do.
  3. Go in for your first day and hate it immediately.
  4. And intensely.
  5. But keep going because YOU WILL CONQUER.
  6. Break out in hives.
  7. Break out in psoriasis.
  8. Break down in tears.
  9. Have a random allergy attack and start sneezing all over customers.
  10. Go home, cry into your soup and realize: everyone was right, this job is not a good fit for you, text your boss you’re quitting, rub eczema ointment on your psoriasis and go to bed for three days.

Traditional jobs will never be a good fit for me because of my artistic personality. I’m happiest when I’m creating my art—whether in word, paint or fabric. And what this artist needs most is to embrace her art-making. I haven’t embraced that because I still have this idea that unless I’m selling my art, it’s worthless. This is untrue. Success as an artist is not determined by sales. I know this but I don’t live like this is true.

So much of my journey through mental illness is a journey of self-acceptance.

Understanding and accepting my limitations, learning to celebrate and embrace who I am (an artist!) and what I can and cannot do (work a full-time job!), accepting without shaming myself for not being able to do what others can do. 

Acceptance is really hard, you guys. I would like to be like all the other cool kids who can work jobs and not have total meltdowns in the middle of their shift. But then again, maybe I don't want to be anyone else. Maybe this whole mental illness thing is a big lesson in learning to love and accept myself, as myself.

There's a difference between self-acceptance and self-indulgence, don't you think?

Self-acceptance is a worshipful posture; it agrees with God about who we are and who we are not. Self-indulgence is a me-centered posture; it places ourselves in the center of our lives as God.

My default is to grovel in the dirt, full of self-loathing. But this, too, is a kind of self-indulgence. God doesn't see me as a vile worm, unworthy of His love. Self-acceptance is loving the sacred self God made in us which bears the image of His own Self. The beauty of our self is owed to the One whom it reflects: God. Just as the beautifully sculpted marble reflects the skill of the sculptor, so, too, our selves reflect His skill and limitless glory. We do not look at a statue and think: wow, this statue really did a great job sculpting itself! We look at a statue and think: whoa, what amazing artist created this sculpture?

The saints often talk about "self-forgetfulness" and I think that's an important lesson for me as I learn to live with my mental illness. The saints held everything loosely, including their own lives. The only thing to which they clung was God’s will. And even that they realized was not something which they could accomplish in and of themselves but only through the power of the Holy Spirit. Clinging without grasping. Holding fast without needy desperation. “If I perish, I perish.” Understanding and fully accepting that their lives were not about them but rather about God and the work He was doing.

I think there is a true freedom in this kind of self-forgetfulness. Please understand: I'm not talking about self-erasure or self-loathing. Self-forgetfulness is something else entirely. It is not self-erasure. It is not destroying the self God created for us, as us.

Self-forgetfulness is a grateful acknowledgment that we are not our own; we are bought with a price. It is fully accepting that we are created by our Creator for a specific purpose: to bring Him glory.

It is about the Kingdom He is building, it is about the community of fellow travelers all following the One. This is an eternal and everlasting purpose. It is not fleeting. It does not fade with time.

And when dealing with mental illness, I really need an eternal perspective. A reader named Dina recently helped frame this idea for me. She, too, has struggled with chronic illness and with all those "wasted days" spent in bed. She wrote on my FB page: "When I began to reframe God's purposes for me as ETERNAL, I realized my worth wasn't in the bigness of my life but in the accomplishing of what God has intended all along for me."

When I think about my mental illness this way—as the means through which God is working out His ETERNAL purpose in me—then I am better able to accept my limitations, I am better able to love and celebrate the way God made me, I am better able to love myself as myself.

Elizabeth Esther3 Comments