“Self-pity is selfish!” Anthony yelled from the driver side of his Honda as it neared DeFalco’s Italian Deli. “And I’m sorry to say, but you’re fucking selfish.” I sat completely still in the passenger seat of my younger brother’s car. Tears quickly evaporated as they met the dry desert air and this harsh truth.

He didn’t want to have the conversation, but I had pushed him to the edge. Over the course of the day, I unknowingly stressed out and wore down one of the most optimistic and generous people I know to the point of exhaustion. However, I didn’t realize that it had actually started months — really years — before.

The Morning

Panic woke me out of a heavy hangover at 11:45am earlier that day. The end of the night was a blur. Bruises adorned my legs, and I quickly scoured Anthony’s apartment for my handbag as he sat in his recliner chair. 

“Oh my god, oh my god,” I said under my breath like a deranged mother who lost her child amid crowds in a strip mall. Except I was looking for what I believed to be my life’s greatest possessions: phone, cards and ID. I knew that they were gone, and a futile search proved it.

I wasn’t sure what to do. So I showered and brushed out my eyelashes.

“I’m going to head out for the day,” Anthony said as I laid down on the futon with wet hair. My age plummeted from 31 to 13 as a meltdown began.

“Can I come??” I asked between heavy sobs. “You can’t leave me!”

The idea of being alone created a tightness in my chest. Back in LA, there was job loss, job rejections, an end to dating someone I liked and a break in my coveted routine as a result. Visiting Arizona was supposed to be my escape from rejection and a reset to a more joyful Annie. While there was progress made throughout the week between good friends, new friends, blog interviews and my brother, I felt I had now ruined it by drowning myself in drinks. 

What if I couldn’t stop thinking about it all? 

However, reluctance met brotherly love: “Fine, but we’re leaving right now. Meet you in the car.” The Cardinals vs. Rockies game muted the tension on the way to Downtown Phoenix.

The Day

“You’re probably hungry,” Anthony said once we had settled into his co-working space. Though I wasn’t sure my anxiety would allow for hunger, his recognition of it — along with knowing there was no way I could pay for food — put me at ease.

  • First, he purchased Chipotle to eat while I wrote and he read.
  • Next, he took me to the Verizon store to activate one of his old phones before driving me to Old Town bars to try to find my things.
  • Then, he unexpectedly handed over $300 cash as he dropped me off at the coffee shop to write more.
  • And an hour later, he sat down next to me at Cartel Coffee for a beer: “Want pizza? Let’s go get some pizza!” Our dad taught him well.

However, as we walked towards his car, all I could think about was my early morning flight without any forms of identification, as well as facing the rejection that lived back in LA after a week away. 

“Anthony, I don’t want to leave!” I said as tears started to pour again. 

The Night

“Do you even understand how stressed out you have made me today? I’m usually a happy person, and I’ve tried everything to help, because I would do anything for you, but FUCK!”

We were seated in front of DeFalco’s. The reason for his silence throughout the day was explained. It included the way that I wallowed in self-pity, and it wasn’t just today.

“You’re always so self-centered. You don’t think that I get down sometimes? Do you think it’s fucking easy to own your own business, lose clients and keep smiling? No. But I don’t base my behavior off of my feelings,” Anthony continued. “If you want to talk about solutions, I’m more than happy to do that, but this constant crying and complaining is just selfish. Mom and Dad agree.”

He exited the car to grab the pizza.

I Am Selfish

Selfish (adjective): lacking consideration for others; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.

For a second I stared at DeFalco’s and slightly mourned the last time I was there, happily giggling at texts from the guy I liked. That’s when it hit me harder than Anthony’s truth bomb: I am selfish. 

In fact, I am the definition of selfish. The entire day I had not considered the effect of my behavior on Anthony in spite of his best efforts to please me. There was no room because I was concerned chiefly with my own pleasure, which I only now realized.

I naively assumed that my family and friends’ spirits were ironclad, as if my self-loathing would bounce off of them without an ounce absorbed. Consequently, I slowly sucked the energy out of them rather than being a source of it. This negative net difference was not the type of person I want to be. 

So, how can I fix it and return to a more positive state for myself and them?

The Problem with Self-Pity

Self-pity (noun): excessive, self-absorbed unhappiness over one’s own troubles.

Where does the line exist between voicing your feelings and forcing them onto others? What constitutes self-care vs. self-pity? And at what point does leaning on your support system push them over the edge? 

While a therapist might be the first step for many, we can also break down self-pity to determine a more productive means of handling feelings with friends and family.

  • Excessive: “You’re like the negative coworker who slowly brings you down over the course of the day,” Anthony said. That person is the last person I want to be, but it resonated with me. At any well-run business, if an issue arises, a meeting takes place to clearly discuss the details, as well as action steps towards a solution. If there is a follow-up needed, it’s put on the calendar. Colleagues who continue to talk about it at the water cooler or at company happy hour are deemed dramatic. They bring you down. Didn’t we already discuss that at the 2pm meeting? In a similar way, next time I will ask Anthony if we can allot 5 minutes to discuss how I’m feeling over a Sam Adams and slice of pizza, as well as possible solutions. I’ll then work on those action items until it’s time to meet about it again.
  • Self-absorbed: The purpose of friends and family is to offer support. They’re supposed to be the ones who lend an ear and offer advice. However, as they’re holding up their end, are you holding up yours? What can you do in return? I often think that just because I help Anthony with his website and business needs, that means I’m supportive. But when was the last time I asked how his day was going or made a change in my plans or picked up Chipotle to make life a little easier for him?
  • Unhappiness over one’s own troubles: There are people dying. There are people suffering from divorce. There are people supporting a family and struggling to pay rent. While remembering this helps gain perspective, it doesn’t eradicate self-pity. Comparing pain rarely relieves it. But it’s important to talk about it in a healthy, non-excessive way.

“Maybe it’s the American male ego, but I don’t like to talk about my problems,” Anthony said. However, I was glad that he did because something finally clicked for me that evening as I packed to go back home. I realized that I wasn’t alone in the troubles I faced and that happiness was possible in spite of them. Anthony was proof.

Self-Pity is Selfish

When fear of the airport threatened me, I thought about the action plan we discussed. Before we went to bed, I gave him feedback on his latest video project, and it felt good to focus on something else. And as I woke up at 3:45am the next morning, I thought about Anthony who I now know faces the same challenges that I do each day but who doesn’t let those feelings keep a smile from his face.

When we are focused only on what’s going wrong for us, it’s difficult to see how we can make it right. When we obsess over unhappiness, it leaves little room to notice joy. When we are so busy seeking pleasure for ourselves, we fail to see the pain in others. Self-pity is harmful not because of the attention we give ourselves but because of what it takes away from those closest to us.

As I sat on my patio later that day in LA, Anthony gave me a call to check in: “You should write about this in case others feel this way. Love you, Anne Marie.”