This is a guest post from the wildly talented Heather Dainauskus who blogs at Me and Mine.
“This Has Got to Stop, Now.”
That’s what my teacher told me last week, my Pharmacology teacher. She looked at my tear-streaked face, with gallons more tears welling up in my bloodshot eyes, watching me bite my lip trying to keep the sobbing quiet, and said, “This has got to stop, now.” I nodded repeatedly, blinking the overflowing tears from my eyes so I could actually see where she was in the room, and nearly-silently whispered, “I know. I know.” That apparently wasn’t good enough. She wheeled her desk chair closer to me, leaned forward, put her hand on my arm, and through her own set of tear-filled eyes looked me in mine and said, “You have got to stop this, right now. Do you hear me?” I nodded some more and gulped down the biggest sob I’ve felt in a while. She scooted back to her desk where my test review sheet lay, and just barely, through all the blur, I could see her scribble, then almost violently circle, the words, “Negative self-talk.”
I had made an appointment with this instructor after nearly failing my last Pharmacology exam a couple weeks ago. I wasn’t sure what this “test review appointment” was going to consist of, I was just hopeful to, at a minimum, find out which questions I got wrong so I could add those to my studies before the next exam. After closing the door and sitting down she began abruptly, “Okay, let’s do this.” (She’s always in warp speed, by the way. She is brilliant and has a lot on her plate, and calling her EXTREMELY EFFICIENT would be an understatement even if it is typed in bold and italics.) She pulled up a document on her computer screen and sent it to the printer. While it was printing she whipped out a blank, hot-pink index card and handed it and a pencil to me. She pulled out the test questions and my Scantron answer slip from the filing cabinet along with her answer key, took the sheet of paper from the printer, sat down, and explained to me how it was going to work. Using my index card to block the possible answers, I was to read the question out loud and then before revealing the answer I was to verbalize what I thought the answer was. Then, I would slide the index card down the page uncovering each possible answer one by one, and before moving onto the next option I was to read the choice out loud and then write a T or F at the end of the sentence while explaining to her my thought process. Easy enough, right?
1st question – I read the question and verbally answered the question correctly, before revealing any answers, and then revealed the answers one by one identifying the correct one. She checked my Scantron and told me which incorrect answer I put on the test. I was annoyed. She asked what happened; I shrugged. 2nd question – Again, I identified the correct answer but it turned out that I filled in the wrong bubble on the Scantron; whatever, it happens. 3rd question wrong- Same process, same result. I knew the answer, I even scoffed at the answer I chose before I even knew it was the answer I chose. I was able to explain to her the true and false rationales behind each of the options. Again she asked what happened. I started to explain to her that I think I just get test anxiety. I study, I know I know the material, but when it comes to sitting down and taking the test my mind just takes a leave. I heard myself, it sounded like excuses to me, and all I could think was that I was sure she’d heard that one a million times before. We continued; 4th question wrong – Well, I imagine you’re probably ahead of the story now by guessing how this question went as well. This question was a lab value though, those can’t get any more black or white. But the lab value given in the question was so far from the normal range that I thought maybe I was thinking of the wrong set of values? She could see my frustration. She took the pencil out of my hand and said, “What’s in there if your mind’s gone? What are you thinking?” That was it, she might as well have forked me cause I was done.
I’ve always known I’ve felt this way, but I’ve never really wanted to say it out loud. I didn’t even want to hear it, let alone let someone else hear it. But not only did I tell my instructor that day, I’m now telling you, whoever is reading this, just in case this is your voice and your struggle as well and, like me, you don’t want it to be anymore.
I took a deep breath, knowing full well that the first word that was about to come from my mouth was going to be the unleashing of years, decades by now, of fear and near panic that I’ve masked with humor, hard work, persistence, and a lot of lonely cry fests. “I’m thinking, “What if I fail?”", and immediately I felt the hot tears streaming down my face, taking my makeup with them. I didn’t even give her time to respond. “What if I’m wrong? What if I think I’m right but I’m not, and then I fail?” She immediately recognized this wasn’t just about one Pharm test. “So what?” she said. “So what if you fail? What will happen? We designed in this program the ability for you to leave and then come back once if you run into difficulties.” I was baffled. Obviously she doesn’t know my situation. I reminded myself of her obvious ignorance so that my tone didn’t scream, Are you nuts? I responded matter of factly, as matter of factly as I’ve ever been about anything, “Uhm, there is no failing. I cannot fail.” I told her. Does that sound unreasonable? It doesn’t to me. But she looked at me like I was the one who was nuts. “I have kids that depend on me. I have parents who have helped me who I can’t disappoint. I have laid everything on the line to get into this program and graduate from it on time. I’m in debt up to my ears to be here. There is no taking a semester off and coming back. I don’t have. any. more. time. I need to graduate and get a job and feed my kids.” She sat there and listened to me, hopefully making out all the words between the squeaks and the spit-swallowing that accompanies trying to keep your emotional breakdown contained internally. This feeling, this isn’t like a what-if-I-lose-the-ball-game fail or flunk-one-test fail; this is an everything-is-riding-on-me-and-only-me fail. She handed me a tissue, “How long have you been telling yourself that? How often do you ask yourself, “What if I fail?”?”
“Sometimes multiple times a day.”
“Every morning when I get up and every night when I lay in bed, if I even get to lay in bed.”
She could tell I could have kept answering her for quite a while. “Do you realize what that does to your ability to succeed? Do you understand what making yourself feel like you’re going to fail all the time does?”
“I do. I know. But what if…..”. And she interrupted me right there; she wasn’t going to hear it again. “This has got to stop, now.” she said.
I will always be grateful I nearly failed that first Pharm test and made an appointment with her even though I didn’t really have to. I’m grateful that God put her in that office, in that chair across from me, and created her to be the kind of person that didn’t judge me by my insanely toxic thinking, didn’t assume I was out for pity or being melodramatic. I’m thankful he put into her mouth the words I needed to hear so that I could let go of that fear.
I contemplated writing about this because I wondered if anyone is this hard on themselves? Does anyone else live in constant fear? But if there is even just one of you reading this, just one of you, who doesn’t recognize your abilities, who doesn’t have confidence in your hard work and dedication, who always questions yourself even if you know what you know; if there is one of you who doesn’t tell yourself you are worthy of succeeding despite your past mistakes and even despite all of your failures because you question if you really are; if you have responsibilities, big responsibilities, and you live in constant fear that you’ll drop the ball, you’ll be wrong, or maybe you’ll fail – then you need to hear this:
“This has got to stop, now.”
Who I Am.
Five beautiful, resilient, smart, and hormonal (four are girls) children make me one very blessed and grateful mother, relieved that despite me they appear to have a good shot at turning out pretty amazing! My job as such has brought me unexplainable joy along with unmatchable pain and only one shot at either at any given moment, and my constant desire to do right by them and my gracious God who gave me the honor of being in charge of them supersedes anything else I might ever be or do. I write to share my life-experience with those who I am blessed to know and strangers alike, in the hopes that at the most you read something valuable or relatable and at the least you smile. If you find this post meaningful, check out some other thoughts at Me and Mine.