Twice this month, I’ve broken down and cried. I’m not talking about the slightly weepy kind of crying; I mean the bawling while curled up into a ball on the bed variety. “Wrecked”, as S would say. Each incident had its triggers and buildups, though I saw neither coming. But both stemmed from my obstinate, deep-seated sense of inadequacy.
There were signs of these breakdowns that I see only in retrospect. In one, it was lack of sleep, missing my medications, and meeting some amazing people my partner’s life (more on that later). In another, it was – once again – lack of sleep, having just come back from a conference, a song, and possibly taking two doses of my meds. In both cases, my feelings were a jumble. It was only time and hindsight that helped me figure out the reasons for my tears.
<aside> I’m writing under the influence of that possible double dose of bupropion. I say “possibly” because I honestly can’t remember, which is why I would have taken the second pill in the first place. But my hands are pretty jittery, unusually so, which could be extra meds, could be the stint on the rowing machine this morning, or could be the kayaking trip from yesterday. Or all three! But considered yourself warned regarding this post: I may be overmedicated. </aside>
I’ve written about my feelings of inadequacy before. One of their likely roots comes from my father (or lack thereof). It took me a while to realize that I had such deep shame. I externalized it for a long time, and still do. The shame attaches itself to so many aspects of my life, but a few in particular: parenting, being a good partner, and job performance.
If you read my post about my father, I’m sure that you understand why I feel inadequate molding a young child’s life. Although “child” is a bit too specific. “Molding a young boy’s life” is more accurate. I break up a bit every time I hear some cheesy country song about a father and his son. Curse you, Brad Paisley.
I lacked a real father figure in my life. That role was served by my grandfather and mother, who raised my sister and I by herself on Social Security disability, food stamps, and the help of my not-at-all wealthy grandparents. But having my mother and grandfather weren’t quite the same as having a father figure. I looked up to my grandfather, certainly, but he acted like a grandfather. And an excellent one at that. And my mother’s parenting allowed for a lot of freedom but not a lot of guidance, as I’d always envisioned a father would do with his son.
I’m not really a “stereotypical gender roles” kind of guy; hell, typically I’m the least “manly” in the couple, however one might define that term. But, perhaps due to my history, I still think that a role a male parental figure serves in a boy’s life is somehow special. I am not a parent, but I do have some very dear young men in my life. I often don’t feel adequate to be a proper role model for them, to do parent-like things. People tell me that nearly no parents really feel up to the task, and they learn as they go. And they make mistakes. I get that. I know that. I also know that I’m a pretty decent male figure to have in a child’s life, all things considered. But I don’t feel it. I try to feel it, but I don’t.
That same inadequacy carries over into being a partner. For a long time, I depended heavily on a partner for personal happiness, a quality in which I’m assuredly not alone. It took a major depressive episode and its resulting revelations to help me take my happiness into my own hands. Now, I’m in a relationship that’s a partnership in the truest sense of the word, and I see how wonderful and healthy it can be. But that nagging sense of doubt still creeps in.
One of my breakdowns was predicated on meeting a couple of amazing people in S’s life. We stayed with them for a night, and I was in awe of how great they seemed and how much joy they brought to her and to each other. The whole experience felt so truly special, although it likely didn’t seem as such to S and them. I went to bed that night happy to have met some more of the people my partner holds dear.
And then I woke up in the morning, and the comparisons began.
Why would someone with such wonderful people in her life, and such wonderful people as potential partners, choose me? Awkward, unattractive, boring, diseased me. I’m not a catch, I’m a liability. All of my faults and inadequacies were laid bare, or at least the things I perceived as faults and inadequacies. I didn’t see how I could be a decent partner with all of those demerits against me. S accepts me wholly as I am, warts and all, and tells me so often. But I don’t accept myself. That lack of acceptance bubbled to the surface that morning.
This lack of acceptance carries through in little ways, where I feel rejected by small things that people do that really have nothing to do with me: “I have other plans tonight”, “I’m too busy for lunch”, “I’m tired today, but maybe we can catch up another time” etc. Such statements aren’t about me but rather about the other person. And usually, I know and feel that. But sometimes, I feel inadequate and turn those things on myself.
Inadequacy was queued up in my brain particular strongly of late because I just got back from the Oregon Library Association conference. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of the professional year, a chance to catch up with respected colleagues and dear friends and learn from the amazing things going on at other libraries across the state.
Colleagues often come up to me at conferences like this and commend me for the work that was done in Hood River County. The work was indeed incredible, to be sure, and while I had my role in it, it was a community effort in every sense of the term. I get commended for other things, too. This year, I was involved in a few presentations which were well-received. People actually specifically complimented me after them.
I’ve learned to accept compliments more graciously as I get older rather than, as I often did and still sometimes do, deflecting them. In one sense, I welcome them; they help that shameful part of myself realize that maybe I’m not half bad. On the other hand, they also make me think of all of the things I did wrong. When I get complimented on a presentation, I think how unprepared I felt for it, how disorganized I sounded in my head as I spoke, how much better it could have been if only blah blah blah. And when people mention our library district, my head instantly goes to all of the deficiencies we still have, all of the things that I haven’t gotten to, the things at which I’ve failed. As I said before, I sometimes go through my work life worrying that my colleagues, staff, and community members finally will out me for the fraud that I am.
So this morning, before I cried, I was already primed for inadequacy. I began working from home, and my emails reminded me of the OLA conference. I also saw messages about the big conference I’m planning in Hood River, an event at which I feel like I’m failing miserably as it comes closer. I was alone in my house, having spent the night alone as well. While I sat down to check my email, I queued up a song S recommended that I’d written an old note I happened to run across that reminded me to listen to it. I broke. Hard. I cried on the bed with the song on repeat.
These feelings show to me now how essential therapy is to my treatment. I went into therapy this most recent time thinking I didn’t need it. Well, I “should” be in therapy, I thought, but I had no particular goals. My meds, diet, and exercise would keep me stable. But I do need help to work through some of these issues. Writing about them like this helps a lot, actually, but sometimes I need to talk to someone, too. Someone who knows what they’re doing. This is all to say, treating mental illness is complicated, people!
I know that I’m not really inadequate. Sure, I have my dirty laundry (much of which I air publicly on the interwebs!), but so do we all. The side of me that’s usually dominant knows that I’d be pretty good as a father figure, make for a pretty adequate partner, and am pretty good at my job. But I need to be patient with myself. I’ve done a lot of work in the past few months, and progress has been swift. Shame and inadequacy so deep-seated as these are going to take time to work through. They’re never going to go away, but at least I can learn to cope with them. For that reason, I think these breakdowns are healthy for me. I’m confronting those feelings on the surface where I can see and analyze them, as I do so well. But I also feel them with all of their intensity. And as a former emotional eunuch, that’s a part of my healing process. So bring it on, shame!
… but maybe could you wait until conference planning and budget season are over, please?