Please make up my mind

11th May 2012 at 01:00

I often get asked for advice. One of the weird things about getting older is that people think it makes you wise. They look at your lined face and assume that wrinkles connote wisdom rather than the fact that you used coconut oil as a sunscreen and smoked too many fags. Age is certainly no determinant of intelligence; it's more likely to give you high blood pressure, a gluten intolerance and an urge to go on a Telegraph reader's cruise than any intellectual enlightenment.

These past few weeks, I've not been overly successful at handing out advice. I'm so exhausted that I struggle to make my own decisions let alone guide anyone else's. On a bad day, every decision sends me into a state of mental paralysis; choosing which cardigan to wear in the morning feels on an emotional par with deciding which of my kids gets my kidneys in the event of my sudden death. When you're this tired, tiny decisions carry disproportionate psychological amplitude. I feel like the hapless Father Dougal in that episode of Father Ted where he thinks toy cows and real cows are the same size because he has no sense of perspective.

Exhaustion does this to you: it makes all your toy cows seem real. Choosing an outfit, a plenary or where to go for lunch becomes laced with a symbolic significance that far outweighs the triviality of the decision itself. So although deciding whether the third part of my lesson is called "development", "process", "synthesis" or "making sense" may seem a matter of semantics, the very act of indecision opens the door to excoriating self-doubt.

When you get like this, every decision becomes painful, every indecision a torment. The only escape is to defer to other, more strong-minded people. The abrogating of responsibility is a defence mechanism that protects your last flickering vestige of self-belief. If it all goes wrong you're not to blame.

Over the past few weeks, I've passed the buck to colleagues several times by asking, "Any ideas what I could do for a starter?" or "Do you think this essay is an A?" Their ability to reach decisions is alien and impressive - it's like they can play the sousaphone and speak Mandarin. Even my feckless husband can still make confident calls. I watched him on eBay the other night. Within 10 minutes he had registered bids on several items; would that I could be as self-assured. If I so much as pick up a chicken pie in Tesco my poor addled brain begins its "To buy or not to buy" equivocating routine, which renders me incapable of either popping the pie in the trolley or putting it back on the shelf. Compared with my vacillations, Hamlet seems to be confidently rapping "Just do it" in blank verse.

But unabashed by my feeble-mindedness, a colleague recently approached me for advice. She's a feisty, thirtysomething woman who has become increasingly frustrated with her long-term partner. They have reached a stalemate in their relationship and she wanted to know if I thought she should leave him or have his baby. Now, usually when someone asks you to choose from a range of options, there's some connection between them, such as "Do you think I should buy the navy one or go for a brighter blue?" This was like asking whether she should buy the navy one or drive over the neighbour's pet guinea pig with a stolen JCB. I summoned what little decisiveness I had left. "Toss a coin," I heard myself say, "then at least it won't be your fault."

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England. @AnnethropeMs.

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