Mental Health Worthiness

Getting Held Back

I want to tell you guys about the time that I first felt unworthy, not good enough, “less than,” and stupid.

The impressions we form about ourselves when we’re very young can be difficult to shake. From time to time, I felt like I was on the outside at the age of 11. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling this way.

Sharing this story may not be the easiest thing ever, but being vulnerable is helping me shake that worthless feeling.

Readers, all of us are worthy, smart, and beautiful on the inside and out.

You are beautiful. You are enough. You are worthy.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, that’s my mantra, ya’ll!

Read, whisper it, scream it from the rooftops, do whatever you have to do until you believe it in the pit of your core.

If you don’t feel worthy right away, that’s okay. It takes A TON of practice to unlearn these cognitive errors. But…. I believe in you 


I grew up going to a Montessori school. It was really lax, in that all students could pick out what and when they wanted to learn. We had a list of our weekly projects and we would unroll a big blue rug and get working. A few times throughout the day, the teachers would ring a big bell and all of us (usually three grades would be all together in one room) would sit cross-legged in a circle and listen to the lesson.

It appealed to all types of learners – kinesthetic, visual, tactical, and auditory. I didn’t realize how lucky I was. I am one of those people who learn by writing something down over and over until I’ve got it down. If you give me verbal directions, you might as well not tell me at all. I have a hard time absorbing auditory information. If my mom wants me to do something, she has to have me repeat back to her what she just said because it goes in one ear and out the other.  Anyway, my school was a welcoming space where kids were encouraged to be themselves.

My best friend, Sydney, played with me at recess every day and listened to me as I talked to her about what I was going through with my dad. At that time, my parents had separated. It had been brought to my mother’s attention that my dad was smoking crack at night when Emily and I were sleeping. I missed my dad so much. I would have given the thing I loved most in the world – my stuffed animal, Bun Bun – and thrown her in the ocean if it meant I could spend one weekend with my dad again. I don’t know what I would have done without Sydney’s friendship. I wanted to do anything and everything with her.

She wanted to continue her Montessori education (our school ended after 6th grade) and therefore so did I. My mom was on board. However, my grandpa, Pipa, really wanted me and Emily to go to a private school. (Whenever I say “we” or “us” I’m referring to me and my sister, Emily.)

My grandparents, Mima and Pipa, played huge roles in our lives. During the happiest moments of my life, Pipa was right there, front and center. For my birthday each and every year, me and my friends would pile in his old World War II jeep and laugh gleefully, as he switched it into second gear. He taught us how to play tennis and avoid poison ivy. He rode horses with us, kayaked with us,  and picked us up after school all of the time. When my father died, he consoled me in a way that will forever warm my heart. There was a period of time when I moved in with Mima and Pipa. I was so thankful that they took me in.

While Pipa has amazing qualities, he was also stubborn as all get out! He was one of those people who gets what he wants.

Yet, my mom pushed back. Emily went to this private school and I started off at the Montessori public school.

Sydney and I started a new school together. Back then I was a pretty awkward kid who liked to dress up in head turning outfits. I am not sure why… let’s call it creative expression. I’m hoping they weren’t desperate attention-seeking moves. Anyway, I was made fun of and bullied a little bit. Some part of me wishes that I stuck it out because that school actually seems pretty awesome.

There was this girl who I thought was my friend who I invited over for a sleepover. She told everyone that I was a rich snob who had a maid. Actually, she’s a cleaning lady, but okay.

One time I was wearing flip-flops that my friend Sydney gave to me. She tied a bunch of ribbons onto the line strap. They were funky but stylish, they were so ME. (Remember, I was wearing the WIERDEST stuff. My worst (or best) fashion move (or disaster)   was a denim skirt over jean pants. YIKES!)

So this mean girl that I invited over says, “Your shoes are so gross and weird. I seriously hate them. Ew!” My cheeks burned crimson as everyone turned to stare me. Some people giggled, others averted their eyes. I felt like a zoo animal.

Unfortunately, that day was the same day as a parent-teacher conference. When I saw my Mom coming down the hall, I burst into tears. All of the sadness came bubbling up to the surface. I missed my old school, I missed my dad, I missed feeling like a normal kid.

That day, we decided that I should go to the private school.

Here’s the catch: I failed the entrance exam.

The admissions people told me that I would have to repeat the sixth grade in order to be admitted. I had been in seventh grade for a few months, so this was a huge blow to my self-esteem.

They told me, “You have a June birthday. You’re too young to start in seventh grade, especially mid-year. This will be an easier adjustment for you.”

I knew the truth though: it was because I failed.

I know there is a lot of research on brain development and whatnot. Many people appreciate being on the older side when they begin school.

For me, it was extremely detrimental for my self-esteem. For the rest of my childhood and young adult life, I would feel less intelligent and less capable.

I began sixth grade in October at this private school. All of these students who were months younger than me were so concerned with grades, homework, and studying. I was not used to the hours and hours of homework and studying. I struggled to keep up, but felt that I had to prove that I was smart.

I wanted to prove it to my teachers and myself that I CAN do this.

I gave up sleepovers, hanging out with friends, and a lot of afterschool activities. I remember one time when my family went out to see a play, but I stayed home. I was miserably studying plate tectonics in a lit corner of my room.

It felt like a nervous dark cloud of energy consumed my formerly happy-go-lucky self. I become obsessive and constantly wondered if other people thought I was stupid. I thought about this constantly- even when I went to the dentist’s office! Does this person think I’m dumb? I couldn’t just calmly exist, I had to explain myself to anybody who would listen.

Getting held back was damaging to me for a plethora of reasons.

  • I had already started seventh and had to go back to sixth.
  • Adolescence is a rough time as it is.
  • I went to an extremely competitive school.
  • I actually passed sixth grade.
  • I was having a hard time at home, missing my dad.
  • I have an anxious personality.

The whole time I was in grade school, I felt like a fraud when I excelled at something. I may never have admitted it, but I felt dumb. Intelligence is rewarded in our society.

From families to businesses to schools, we all praise intelligence. No one wants to be the person who gets it wrong, who doesn’t know something. I always felt like I didn’t know enough to do well.

Then, I went to college and things changed for me. 

My sophomore year at Earlham College, my professor, Vince, approached me about an essay I wrote for my Cradle and Grave class (a human development class that focused on infancy and death.)

Vince’s lectures were intoxicating. I couldn’t wait to tell all my friends what I had learned. I left his classes, pondering existential dilemmas, my identity, and flow. Even though I learn in a different way, I was able to follow along comfortably. He demanded a lot from you. Once I forgot my textbook to class. Let’s just say, I would NEVER make that mistake twice. Still, he was also a really funny guy. Once, he brought these cookies with graves and babies on them. He said, “You can imagine the expression of the baker when I told her I wanted babies and graves on the cookies.” Hah!

Anyway, Vince told me that my essay was outstanding. He said I nailed it.

It was a model essay that showed exactly what he was looking for in a paper.

Wow! I was beaming wider than I ever had in my life.

That little comment changed the way I perceived myself. Hey, maybe I’m not that dumb after all. This person BELIEVES in me.

For the rest of my time in college I felt like a pretty smart kid. I proudly graduated with honors. It seemed like nothing could get me down.

When I failed the GRE after I graduated and later dropped out of graduate school, I have felt the unworthiness creep back into my life.

I am doing my best to try to get rid of these thoughts. The critical voice in the back of my head is just plain WRONG.  

If you don’t have that person in your life that believes in you, you’re going to have to DIG deep and believe in yourself.

Hey, if it means anything, I believe in you.

Don’t keep your story bottled up- sharing what you’ve gone through really help with feelings of unworthiness. Being vulnerable with all of you really helped me.

Thank you for reading my story.