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failure to thrive

October 24, 2014

I told P today that I have a part inside me that thinks of every new section we delve into as an exam that I’m likely to fail. So I need to do all the homework, preferably ahead of time; I need to do “extra credit”, if it’s available. And yet this part still worries that, despite all these efforts, I’ll fail.

I didn’t remember, during the session, but as far as actual schooling goes, I did have this exact experience, multiple times:

  1. In 5th grade, after I changed schools (because we moved). I had undiagnosed ADD, but Mrs. M just thought I was a flaky screwup, and of course my parents agreed.
  2. Mr. G’s Science class, 7th and 8th grades. The less said about this ongoing trainwreck the better. But my parents took the side of the authority figures against me. For 2 years.
  3. In one of my math sections in high school, although I don’t remember which one. I do remember, though, that my difficulties were extensive enough that I got dropped from the high achievement track, and lumped in with the more ordinary kids. That ultimately meant I was ineligible to take calculus as an upperclassman, which contributed to . . .
  4. I almost failed high school physics (as a senior), because Mr. S taught it using calculus, but I hadn’t had calculus. It didn’t help that I don’t think any of my physics labs turned out the way they were supposed to. I stopped turning them in, because I was just going to get a 0 anyway.

Oh, and somehow that reminds me that I almost flunked out of freshman year, thanks to World History. I got really sick in the spring, probably from the stress. By the time my doctor figured out what was going on (which took miserable weeks, my mother insisting all the while that I was faking), I had pneumonia bad enough that I missed a month of school. Before I got sick, though, I’d lost the workbook that all of our homework assignments appeared in. I should have just bought another copy from the bookstore, but at the time, that extra $10 seemed impossible to get a hold of, without all sorts of horrible questions from my parents. I had no experience actually solving practical problems; everyone in my family ignored problems until they (1) went away, or (2) became a complete disaster, when they (3) looked around for someone to blame. I knew I’d lost the workbook, but I couldn’t figure out why I kept losing things, important things. (Undiagnosed ADD, for the win!) I knew my parents thought I kept losing things because I was a flaky screwup, and was never going to amount to anything. Who needs to have that conversation more than once? Not me. So I contracted pneumonia. In my usual magical-thinking way, I guess I somehow thought that would solve all my problems. Maybe because Mr. W would take pity on me. He didn’t. He flunked me. My parents outdid themselves with a draconian punishment.

When I stopped talking to my parents in 2005, my father wrote back to me to tell me that I handled this World History situation poorly (24 years before), and that that showed I had terrible judgment as an adult. He further commented that I’d always been a disappointment.

I guess the one bright spot was that it was clear I made a good decision, ending my relationship with them.


Discovering my Life’s Purpose to be Being Myself must be what’s dredged all of this up.

When I look at what other people have accomplished with their lives, it looks like my life got badly off track, possibly in high school, although I never really had a good school experience. (Until maybe my later years as an undergraduate, when I was in my 30s.)

By my parents’ definitions, I was never really on track. And that was my own fault. Because Reasons.

Oh, this is going to dark places.


When P said she thought she might be Demeter, “coming to rescue” me-as-dream-Persephone, I hardly knew what to think. No adult has ever come after me, to help. My mother: “If only you were likable, maybe then . . . ! All you have to do is erase your entire personality. Start over from scratch. Be normal like the rest of us. … I’m only telling you this for your own good! I want what’s best for you. But you’re not likable. You need to fix that.”

What can I do in this world that’s worth doing, if my own mother thinks I’m garbage?

How can I hope for a meaningful life, if I don’t deserve to exist? If I was some kind of cosmic mistake? If I’ve always been a disappointment?

Where can I go from here?


Unlike every other time I’ve fallen into this quagmire, I am not in utter despair. I’m upset. I’m grieving. Maybe I’m even devastated. But I keep diaphragmatically-breathing. I’m noticing my shoulders and my chest felt tight. I’m clenching my teeth. I’m having electric shudders periodically. I have tears in my eyes.

But I’m not sobbing uncontrollably. I’m not curled in a fetal ball, wishing I was dead.

I want a better present, and a better future, than my terrible past. How do I get there?

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