Categories
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.

Best,

Annie

Categories
Mental Health

The Pros and Cons of Labels

Labels are truly paradoxical. They are both beneficial as well as destructive to the person that is being labeled. 

When I was sixteen a full-blown depression swept over me. Like a tornado, it wreaked havoc on my spirit, destroying my ability to think clearly. My personality, sense of self, and energy were somewhere out of reach, buried in the rubble. 

Moving my muscles felt like a herculean effort. I listened to sad songs, took warm bubble baths, and ate peanut-butter chewy granola bars. Over and over…and over again. I would tear off the wrapper and gobble them up by the box. Eating sugary snacks and taking scalding hot baths reminded me that I was alive. They sent a fraction of pleasure to my brain for a few seconds, but soon I would get pulled under again. It felt like sinking in a swampy pile of muck. Eventually, I just wanted to stop fighting to keep my head above water. I wanted to drown. More than anything, I wanted this to be over. Give me mercy….

I spent a lot of time in the bathtub thinking about death. What would happen if I used that razorblade to slit my wrists? Was it possible to drown myself in this bathtub? My mind was a messy array of dark thoughts. I wondered where the smiley skinny girl with no worries in the world had gone. I loathed myself in a way that made my insides ache. I felt all alone in the world. I wondered if anyone understood me. 

When I figured out I was depressed, I felt less alone. I felt relief knowing that there was help out there for me. There are other people who get this! The label was comforting in this way. It didn’t feel like it was my fault that I was depressed. It was out of my control. I can’t help this affliction

Our society understands this neat little label. When people can understand things, they’re more compassionate. I would take all of the compassion I could get at that point.

The world can never have too much compassion for those who are suffering. 

Still, from then on, I would always wonder if depression was part of my identity. The answer to that is no. Being in a temporary state of depression is not part of your identity the way the flu isn’t part of your identity. You get help and move forward.  It may be part of your timeline, but do not make the mistake of enmeshing depression with your cardinal personality traits.

Your mental health issues are not who you are. 

Does this mean I have a dark resolution for life? I guess I’m a naturally melancholic person. 

No. 

I do not claim this to be true, though for a while I believed it to be. 

I had an adverse reaction to a heightened dose of an anti-depressant- a full-blown panic attack (more on that in a later post.) I started feeling and acting weird and unlike myself, so my therapist said this meant I had bi-polar disorder. 

This informal diagnosis did not help me at all. While the antidepressant may have lifted my mood and kept me focused, the mood stabilizer and antipsychotic that I took for the next five years were probably not necessary. The antipsychotic made me feel drugged and mindless. Thinking about it now brings a tear to my eye. I can still feel the injustice. My brain is still trying to recover. 

I wish my therapist told me that this was not permanent, rather than saying “you’re going to have to be on medication for the rest of your life.” 

I felt less at-fault and less guilty with the mental illness labels. Yet, I mistook these labels as part of my identity.

Another time, a label offered me community and relief.

I was so relieved that I became giddy. Someone out there gets it! I am desperate for recognition. I scour the world for recognition. I search for it in people’s expression, catching that glint of “I know what you mean.” There lips turn upward, their eyes glimmer a bit, and they nod in understanding. “You’re not alone.”

I have something called Directional Dyslexia. If you haven’t heard of it, that’s okay. The world doesn’t recognize this condition yet. It’s an inability to form cognitive spacial maps. In other words, it takes me a really, really long time to get around anywhere. I had to drive to the mall and movie theatre in my home town twenty times before I was able to get there without a map. I was unable to reverse the direction in my head, so then I had to memorize the reverse route a million times. I got my license a year before the GPS came out, so my Mom had to draw pictures every time I left the house. Thanks Mom!

I have gotten lost in my own neighborhood many times. If I turned right at the second stop sign instead of the third, I wouldn’t have the slightest inkling where I was. I would have to call my mom to come help out. I knew that I was different than others, when I got lost in my neighborhood when I was twelve. My friend lived around the corner. Instead of turning left, I turned right. I didn’t have a cellphone back then, so I was going to have to figure this one out on my own. I wandered around for a few hours before I finally walked by the police station and found my panicked mother. 

When I was a teenager, I searched the internet for my symptoms. It was after a really embarrassing incident where I got lost from my friends after going to the bathroom. I pretended that I was looking around for cell service, but everyone knew that I was lost. My sister and friends laughed at me. A shameful pang stabbed me in the chest as I tried to swallow the lump in my throat. 

I went to the internet and found out that other people had this issue as well. I joined a chatroom and felt comforted by other people’s stories. At that point, I had a GPS. Some of these people grew up before technological advancements and had to draw pictures to get ANYWHERE for their entire adult lives. Apparently, it’s genetic! My grandmother has it as well. Both of us always turn the wrong way when we step out of our hotel room. Our family has to call to us from the opposite side of the hall. 

Before Dyslexia was recognized, people just thought that these kids were stupid. They thought they were unteachable. No, actually neurons aren’t firing in a certain part of their brain. You can see this difference on a cat scan. They’re just as smart as you or me, but they need to learn to read in a different way. The traditional way simply won’t work for them. Now, because dyslexia is in the DSM, people recognize dyslexia and understand that these people are intelligent. 

I’m sure there are countless issues that are not recognized by the DSM. That does not mean that they are not real. Just because YOU don’t get it, doesn’t mean it’s not a thing. Just because professionals in a lab haven’t figured in out yet, doesn’t make it fake. 

It’s unfortunate that society has to have a palatable answer for everything. Maybe labels wouldn’t need to exist if people just understood that all people’s brains work a little differently. If someone goes against the grain a little bit, society needs to find a way to neatly describe this irregularity. This way they can put all of the misfit puzzle pieces off to the side. 

I’m so thankful to have a smartphone with a navigational system! I can disguise my issues pretty well, but I still get made fun of. And because society doesn’t yet understand directional dyslexia, people just say, “Oh you’re just bad with directions.” Yeah, no kidding! I still don’t know how to get to downtown Cincinnati from the suburbs where I grew up, even though I resided there for my entire childhood. If you don’t want to believe me, fine. People may think I’m just dumb, but I know that I’m not. I’m grateful that I’ve read other people’s accounts of this problem. 

So, in this instance my directional dyslexia label helped me. It gives me peace of mind. I felt like less of a freak when I realized that I wasn’t alone. I have only met two other people with this issue, but I believe that it will be recognized in my lifetime. Maybe the reason this label was so beneficial for me was because I gave it to myself.

This label helped me to make sense of the way my brain works.

Another time when I felt confined by a label was when I began dating women. Nothing physical ever happened, but I wanted to experiment with my sexuality. I felt emotionally and physically attracted to women, so I figured that I owed it to myself to go on some dates. People asked me, “So are you gay? Are you bi?” 

No. I’m just me. I felt confined by these labels. Can’t I just follow my curiosity without having to box myself in? When it comes to sexuality, we’re all a little bit different and the same. It’s so personal and unique to you, yet it’s universal. When you have chemistry with someone, you know it by the sensations in your body and your beating heart. That looks different for everyone. 

I literally don’t know how to describe my sexuality. If I’m attracted to one out of thirty women, should I say I’m bi? What if I don’t want a relationship with a woman? I don’t think about my sexuality anymore because I’m in a loving and committed relationship with my boyfriend. 

You can label me as the girl with the wild imagination, talented hula-hooper, college graduate, blonde white chick, introverted writer, crazy festival goer, grad-school dropout, older sister, daughter, girl who moves every single year, fake bisexual chick, or the girl with the dead dad. Call me anxious, call me depressed, call me crazy, call me manic, call me CRAZY, I don’t care. 

One thing is for sure- worthiness is my label. 

I’m worthy when I’m so depressed I can’t move, when I’m thick or thin, when I’m in school or not in school, when I’m wearing make-up or rocking the bare-face, when I’m productive or watching Netflix, when I’m working or unemployed, when I’m sick or healthy, when I’m creative or foggy, when I’m anxious or not, when I’m stuck in a rut or living up to my fullest potential. 

I’m worthy no matter what. 

And so are you all of you. 

For me, labels have been a blessing and a curse. What’s your experience? Tell me in the comments below. 

Sending love and strength,

Annie