Walt Whitman, the American poet, once wrote “These are the days that must happen to you”.
If I were to be philosophical about my pain, I would probably agree. It sounds like what the great rises-from-ashes-and-turns-into-phoenix stories are made of. As much as I love fantasizing about how extraordinary things are going to happen to me, and that I’m going to turn into a beautiful bird any day now, this is not my reality. I have days where I am reduced to being a hormonal angsty teenager who fixates on the most mundane and irrelevant events/people in her life and spends hours expressing despair about things that have (or haven’t) transpired, all the time knowing that this is not what’s actually bothering me.
On days like these, I feel like the main character of Kafka’s Metamorphosis.
In the story, a travelling salesman wakes up and discovers that he is a large insect and can’t get himself to move or do anything because he is unfamiliar with his new heavy form. Instead of the insect I am metamorphosed into an angst ridden version of myself who is unable to proceed with her day(s). It is by far the most infuriating feeling in the world because I’m already mad at myself, and additionally, every possible demon of self-doubt in my head unleashes itself in a way that paralyses me.
I wake up feeling inadequate and it’s hard to get myself to move and face the day ahead.
You need almost nothing to induce me into this state; I am yet to discover what the trigger is. What I do know is that it’s a downward slump which lasts for days on end, and I never know how or when I might feel a bit better.
Imagine a head filled with thought bubbles about one’s own sense of self all of which scream: inept. Not smart enough. Not intelligent enough. Not interesting enough. Not creative enough. Not pretty enough. Not talented enough. Not attractive enough. Not fit enough. Not crazy enough. Not adventurous enough. Not musical enough. You can no longer identify even one attribute of yourself that you’re happy with or proud of. You essentially shrink yourself into this tiny ball of inadequacy and ask yourself, how can anyone like you, when you can barely stand yourself ?
The most ironic part of this entire discourse for me is that the days on which these thoughts paralyse me and cloud my mind are ordinary days.
This was not the day I got my rejection letter from Harvard. This was not the day three days before my Masters’ thesis submission when someone told me that the entire premise of my thesis was flawed. This was not the day that my voice cracked and I sounded like a frog at a music audition. On all those days instead of being consumed with self doubt, I was this wonderfully sane and rational version of myself. The version I like, where my response has been to grab a beer with a friend, acknowledge that shit happens and there are things and circumstances beyond your control.
To paraphrase Albert Camus, I can best describe this dichotomy as absurdity striking me at a street corner. Worried and also trying to rationalize how the same person could be so sane and insane, I looked up symptoms for bi-polarity. To my slight disappointment, I discovered that my irrational and pendulum like spectrum of reasoning could not be attributed to a disorder.
What I have come to realize is that my self loathing requires no external stimuli. I just wake up being irritable with myself. It doesn’t matter if two different sets of people offer me a job within the span of a week, even as I’m least expecting it. I still feel incompetent and stupid. It doesn’t matter what your friends or family say. Frustrated by my low self esteem issues two of my friends downloaded Tinder to my phone because in their words, “you need to hear how amazing you are from a stranger”.
When advice is doled out to you by people who care for your well being, you consider their suggestions since you don’t know how to pull yourself out of it. But it’s at times like these you really get to know yourself. For me, I realized that no matter how much everyone spends their precious energy telling me and repeating themselves like parrots about how amazing I am, I still feel like they’re sweet but delusional. Compliments received, regardless of my state of mind have the same effect as water off a duck’s behind. It neither adds to me or takes away from me. Criticism, however, is something that I do hear out because it is something that allows me to be a better version of myself. I think it is also safe to say that I am cognizant of about 99% of my flaws, so someone giving me insight into my own inabilities is an incredibly rare occurrence.
Every time I wake up feeling this inept, it feels like rock bottom, so I ask: why fight it?
Life’s too short for me to be this miserable over anything, so why not accept that there’s nothing here and get on with said life? Instead of embracing this as a life philosophy, I get angrier at myself for feeling this way, in addition to the ball of inadequacy at the pit of my stomach which is tightening its handle over me to the point where I feel physically unwell.
Here is the difficult part. I don’t know how to get rid of this ball of inadequacy entirely. I’m not sure I want it to disappear either, because at times it has made me push my boundaries.
It has made me take on things, activities and relationships that I didn’t think I was capable of and has as a result added a whole new dimension to me.
A year ago being vulnerable and acknowledging that my sense of self is constantly under attack, was a sign of weakness. A year ago I believed that there was absolutely no point trying to articulate this turbulence that my mind has been experiencing. There were several reasons for this. I wasn’t comfortable with people knowing. I didn’t think I could write it well enough. However, if I really think about it, it was primarily because I didn’t, and don’t, really have a definitive conclusion. Do I want the ball of inadequacy to stay to keep me from living a life of mediocrity? Do I want it to go because it makes me second guess myself and makes me miserable? Will I be able to find a fine balance between the two and start addressing the things that cause the ineptness I feel? In the Kafka story the salesman begins to question his own life before he turned into an insect, and finally grows to be more comfortable in his new insect shape and the new role that fate bestows on him. Perhaps that will be my story too.
Smriti is currently working as a consultant with the CSR wing of an Indian multinational. She enjoys traveling, music, food and trying out new things. Not necessarily in that order.
Featured Image by Jose Murillo, used license-free from Magdeleine.com