Stories for Lent: #24 Achievement

I daydreamed about receiving a purple belt.

The first grading I could go to, I busted both my knees right before. I had to wait. I might not have, in the past, because I’m stubborn and angry and an overachiever, but whatever shreds of sense I had that week, they forced me to sit this one out. And I did. I sat out the nervousness. I sat out the happy announcements. I clapped and was happy for others, while deep down, I beat myself up for not being better, stronger, faster. I’m constantly afraid of falling behind. Of not being good enough.

And then the day came when I did grade. Some things stand out – being knocked on the jaw, hyperventilating towards the end – but for the most part, the details are blurry in my head. I remember being clapped on the back when the results are being announced. I remember sitting in the car on our way back, thinking if I had enough change for the bus. I remember showing up to training a week later (because as soon as I graded, the cold that I’d been pushing down reared its head again) and receiving my belt, and others applauding… and then spending the rest of the training beating myself up for not being able to make a high jump or a long-distance jump.

I was hollow.


The sad thing about this story is that I can change up the details and I can apply it to nearly every major event that I’d been on in the past 6 years or so. High school prom? Meh. Being accepted to study abroad? Yay, and then Janey-what-did-I-get-myself-into? Summer ball? Ugh. Living in Paris? Meh. Living in Toulouse? Depressed. Having a crush? Worst thing ever. Graduating? Meh. Graduating again? Should have been a 1st.

For every memory where happiness should have made me burst at the seams, I feel hollow. Cold.

I used to think this was all the fault of my parents. If only they’d let me do what I want, study what I liked, not forced me into a soul-sucking discipline, then everything would be just peachy. I applauded my brother for following his gut and his dreams, but I also resented him for having his way when I let myself be beaten into the ground. I railed against this fate to counselors in two different languages, and I kept punishing myself and punishing myself by piling on the work. I called myself spineless, and I acted the part, while also burning with concealed resentment.

And I continue to punish myself now, even as I’m trying to be kinder. There is a part of me that tries to tell me, it’s okay, you’re doing the best you can, but it has to out-shout the bigger faction. It’s scary. It’s hard. It perseveres, but for how long?


It’s true, some of my achievements weren’t things I personally cared for. Prom, for one. Maybe the first one, because of the novelty factor, but summer ball in my sophomore year? Total drag. I needed my degree, and I do love studying abroad, but there’s no denying that my heart wasn’t in it.


My Masters and my Ph.D. are my choice. Doing Jitsu is my choice. Keeping on writing and submitting – my choice, too. Winning awards for my writing isn’t, but it’s still acknowledgment of skill, and an achievement nonetheless, because I damn well worked for it. The fact that even the things I love don’t bring me joy is symptomatic of a bigger problem. The fact that I need to force myself to lay down some words is a problem. The fact that I want to run away from this laptop, to stop myself from writing, is a problem. It’s the sadness that permeates everything, this feeling of impeding doom that makes me hopeless and afraid. What’s the point, I wonder, in trying when I know nothing will come of it?

I’ve moved from not having a guarantee of success to being sure of failure. That’s a problem too.

The reason why I’m sharing this is to show you a pattern of thinking. It may not be yours, but it is certainly mine. It is when I know I need to pick up a phone, or take to Google and find someone to talk to.

Maybe this doesn’t mean anything to you. But if it does, please, please, please – don’t wait until you’re drowning in self-loathing to ask for help. Pick up the phone. Go to Google. Find someone. It’s time to talk.


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