The “F” Word

It’s not what you think.  It’s not THAT “F” word.  It’s the “F” word that we fear, that we try to escape.   And, it’s the “F” word commonly accepted and used in our own self-talk.  To which “F” word am I referring?  FAILURE!  No one sets out to be a failure.  To fail is not acceptable in most areas of life.  Yet, how often do you or I accept failure as a way of living?  Why do we allow our own minds to attach failure to so much of our lives?  Why?

I struggle with depression.  I’m also an “overachiever”.  After my late husband’s death, feeling down became “normal.”  Just being able to get out of bed or a day without tears was a good day.   I learned to cope.  I convinced myself I was okay.  Because, I needed to be okay.  To be anything else, was to be weak.  I could not and would not be weak.  That was failing.  I read the books.  I did all the things I was told I needed to do (except counseling!) I moved on with my life.  I didn’t excel at life, but I was living.

Do you know some symptoms of an overachiever?  These taken are from John Eliot, Ph.D., a clinical professor in human performance at Texas A&M University and author of Overachievement.

  1. It’s all about the outcome:  Overachievers view failure more as a personal reflection on themselves
  2. You secretly think you’re not good enough:  While some people will “self-sabotage” when they feel inadequate, overachievers stake their identities on performance in order to conquer self-doubt.
  3. There is a short list of things you want to be good at: and that list only includes things you know you’ll be judged on.
  4. Criticism is the worst:  It all goes back to the fear of failure — overachievers’ public enemy No. 1 is criticism, because it implies that they failed at something.
  5. You’re very future-focused:  Because overachievers are constantly trying to avoid bad outcomes, they are heavily focused on the future — and as a result, often neglect the present.
  6. You feel anxious a lot:  Constantly worrying about what the future holds and achieving everything that needs to be achieved is a recipe for stress.
  7. You’re a perfectionist:  Overachievers may also be concerned about being a perfect spouse or parent, or having a perfect home.
  8. In high school, you were the one in 15 clubs:  They had an A in every class, participated in every club and went to music lessons and sports practices — all in the name of a strong college application.
  9. Being able to provide your child with all the opportunities in the world has more to do with your fear of being a bad parent, and less to do with helping your child realize his or her interests and passions.  All parents, to some extent, feel the need to “do it all” for their kids. But overachievers tend to do it big — attending every PTA meeting, making goodies for the bake sales, volunteering in class, constantly checking up with the child’s teacher — because they care so much about being the best parents.
  10. Crunch-time is the worst time:  When the stakes are high, “the overachiever tends to make mistakes in that situation, and are more out to choke because they’re so concerned with the outcome.

I never quite live up to the ideals that I picture for myself.  The smallest glitch can send me into a tailspin:  I’m not a good mother, I’m failing as a wife, I’m just not good enough.  I struggle with the fear of being utterly alone and unloved, of not being good enough to earn the love of those for whom I care so deeply.  I’m caught in a whirlwind of needing to be the best and feeling like a failure at every turn.  This, in turn, leads to anxiety and depression.

I am fortunate.  I have a husband that is constantly reassuring me.  I have friends that love and support me and are always there with words of encouragement.  I have a counselor that listens to my irrational fears and helps me see the truth.  I don’t want to be a victim of the “F” word.  I struggle each day to see value in myself and my actions.

I’m encouraged when I read  that others in the Bible suffered bouts of depression.  David wrote in Psalm 38: 21-22:

Don’t dump me, God;
    my God, don’t stand me up.
Hurry and help me;
    I want some wide-open space in my life!

There are several scriptures that talk about anxiety and trust.  Believe me, I’ve read them all.  I go to those verses when I’m overwhelmed with the daily concerns of life, when I am confronted with my lack of perfection.  I don’t want to fail.  I will not fail.  God is with me every step of the way.  I must look to His strength and remember it is through His love that I am made perfect.

Fraud

Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death. When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me,
your consolation brought me joy. Psalm 94:17-19 NIV

Sometimes, I feel like a fraud. I tell people I’m okay, when the reality is that I feel the urge to crawl out of my own skin. I tell others how to deal with grief and how to begin to live a new life, but the world around me is just dark and sad. I’ve forgotten how to laugh. I assure others they can depend on me, but I feel as if I’ve been betrayed by my own emotions. I offer pep talks on how things will get better, never give up. I just want to quit; walk away and never look back.

I’ve been in this funk for about a month. After almost nine years, I would expect to be better able to fight off the demons of depression. Obviously, I can’t. I don’t know why I’m at this place again. Maybe, it’s caused by the reality that I will be an empty nester in the next few months. Or, maybe the unexpected reappearance of “a friend” in my life after a 5 year hiatus has knocked me off-balance. It could be my ongoing awareness of the embarrassment I create for people for whom I care. Or maybe, it’s just an issue with my need to have approval and to be in control at all times. Whatever the cause, I can’t seem get my arms around it.

I thought I was doing pretty good at concealing this stuff until Monday. A friend, someone who knows my heart, called my bluff. I’m not holding things together as well as I thought. So, now what? I’m beginning to wonder if stubbornly pushing through each day is the right choice. I’m tired of trying, pretending. I don’t want to cry every day. How do I get past it all, this time? Will I succeed?

I may not succeed, but I will not give up. I will continue to call out to my God for guidance and deliverance. I will look for the bright spots each day and cling to them in the darkness. I will remember how to laugh and enjoy the beauty of life around me. I will attempt to release my obsessions as well as my fear of rejection and disappointment. I will try to forgive myself for not being perfect. I will learn to rest.

I will get through this darkness. I know there is light. Somewhere. I will find it.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

Darkness

When I was a child, my parents would take us to Six Flags over Texas in Arlington. At that time, the park was divided into sections that represented the six flags that had flown over Texas: Spain, France, Mexico, Republic of Texas, Confederate and USA. In the Republic of Texas area, one of the rides was the Davy Crockett River Adventure. You would get on a big “boat” and float down the river. On the way, you would see Indians hiding in the trees and shooting at the boat. There were bandits that were trying to stop the boat, too. The first time I was on this ride, I was in kindergarten. While the adults could see that the people attacking the boat were actually mannequins and the shots fired were really fakes, to a five-year old, it was terrifying. At the end of the ride, the boat guide would start yelling “Oh no! We’re going into that cave! We’re doomed!” In front of the boat, a waterfall would part and the cave would open up to allow us to enter. And, then it closed behind us. I don’t remember much about that first ride. Except for the screaming. My Screaming. I panicked and nothing my dad could do would calm me down. I was certain we would never escape from that cave with it’s spooky skeletons. Of course, we did find our way out. I think all the riders on that boat were glad to escape the screaming little girl. It was YEARS before I chose to travel on the Davy Crockett River Adventure again.

The past few weeks of my life have felt like that river ride. Everything has been dark and a bit sad. Small things that would usually be no big deal have set off explosions in me. Memories have come fast a furious, many precious ones and some I’d rather forget. I know that they’re just memories to be visited and then left behind, but I can’t seem to walk away. I’m surrounded and I don’t know how to escape. This weekend, I entered that cave. It has been dark and scary and I know it’s not forever, but I feel the panic rising and the screams trying to escape just the same. I’ve pushed away those that care about me. No matter how many tears I’ve cried, it’s just not enough. The nightmare just continues.

But, I’m beginning to see the light that marks the way out. I know there is escape from the darkness. I see flashes of hope. Breathing is getting easier, the smiles are not as forced. There will be a few more tears before I’m completely out of the cave. I will come out! And I pray that it’s a very long time before I visit this dark place again.

For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime!
Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.
Psalm 30:5 NLT