Since my mom fell down the stairs and sustained a traumatic brain injury six years ago, she's become quick to succumb to emotion, often turning her anger inward. This mostly happens when she drinks, which is often. Some tiny insignificant thing will set her off and she'll break down sobbing about how worthless she is. Why would you even want me? I've heard her say to my father. This strong, confident, and capable woman becomes an insecure little girl just like that. And there's never a reason to doubt herself. She owns a law firm! She's on the board of every nonprofit in town, recently chaired the hospital where I was born on a massive successful capital campaign! She held fundraisers, went on home visits, coordinated the board, and would never brag about any of it. She's fit and absolutely stunning, strong, tough, active in her community, brilliant, generous, and everything I hope to be. And yet she can easily flip the switch and loathe herself for some minor transgression. How can she not see what everyone else sees? I wonder. And yet.
Long before my mother's TBI, I learned how to turn my anger, even hatred, inward, always quick to blame myself, and jump immediately - irrationally! ridiculously! - to the idea that I have no value to offer anyone and am therefore worthless. Why would anyone want me? I wonder (For the record, my husband calls this line of thinking ridiculous, and he's right. He says "I love You" at least five times a day, and yet, I still sometimes find it hard to believe it could be true). I screw everything up. I'm incapable of a simple task like changing the vacuum bag. The other day, I cut myself on my toothbrush because I couldn't remember how to open it to change the battery, and asked my husband for help. He flipped the little switch I'd failed to notice and says, "You know there are instructions," pointing to them on the kitchen island (it's new, I had to brag). Worthless idiot, I thought. And I know, who gives a shit? Other than a slightly annoying slice on my pointer finger, what does it matter that I forgot how to open the damn toothbrush? And, perhaps more importantly, why does a small frustration or failure completely diminish my self-worth? My husband seems to instinctively understand how to do everything. Build a shed by yourself with no plans and repurposed parts? Sure. Cut into the kitchen floor to make a trap door to the basement? Check. While I can't even unscrew a toothbrush. Sometimes it's infuriating.
Intellectually, I know that I have value, and that it's not simply a thing I could lose or erase in moments I feel less confident, stupid, worthless, which happens all the time. I know better. I'm lucky enough to have people in my life telling me I matter to them, how I'm strong and confident and smart and all the things I don't feel in moments of self-doubt, when I don't believe them. It's like this secret I have and I'm afraid that everyone's going to find out - I'm not good enough!
The thing it comes down to is that I never feel like enough. Smart enough, capable enough, kind enough, pretty enough, thin enough, fun enough. Not good enough, I often think. And this line of thinking does have some benefits, I'll admit. The idea that I'm never good enough has led to me trying my hardest and improving, whether it's getting second place in the regional championships cross-country running race in college or getting an A(+), I'll push myself because it's never enough. And of course, if I screw up a play or, in fact, get second place instead of first (which was my thinking about that championship race for years, instead of thinking second's out of 50+ is not so bad for my first-ever season), I become convinced my team's better off without me, that I might as well not even be there. I've caught myself a few times in my pick-up soccer league getting really down on myself for a missed shot or a goal against us or just for losing the ball. I'd feel the need to apologize to my team (I think we all apologize a little too much on the field). I'd want to keep apologizing until someone told me it was OK, an impulse I often get, but I wouldn't. Then, one time, I caught the apology in my throat and thought nothing matters less than whether or not I score a goal in a friendly adult soccer game. This has no impact on my life or anyone else's whatsoever. I keep going back to this thought when I fail at something small, or even something bigger, like getting a story rejected. And another one. And so on. This does not matter. This does not make me worthless.
It's easy to think these rational thoughts outside of the situation, but in the moment, I frequently go back to a feeling of worthlessness, guilt, shame. On good days, I'll have the presence of mind to remind myself that whatever thing I've done or not done or forgotten to do or can't figure out has nothing to do with my worth to myself or anyone else. I try to remind my mother that she matters to me, that I love and value her. I could probably do it more. I want to tell her that she is good enough. That she is enough. And I try to convince myself that, if I keep valuing others and expressing how much they matter to me, that I'll remember to value myself, too. Maybe. Maybe by writing these words, I'll remember: