When was the Last Time You Felt Like a Failure?

Mental Health

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I never answer the door. I never answer the phone. Why? Because I never know what to expect on the other end. I don’t like surprises. Surprises are for people with a false sense of security because they have never suffered a real tragedy their entire lives.

But, unfortunately for me, my front door has an oval glass center, which allows anyone on my front porch to see directly inside and to the exact spot where I am usually sitting on the couch watching Bravo. If I’m caught in this sacred spot when the doorbell rings, I really have no choice but to get up and answer. I don’t want to be rude, after all.

Six months ago the doorbell rang. An elderly man and I made eye contact through the glass. I opened the door.

It turned out he’d already been by and this was his second attempt because our address had been randomly selected to participate in the U.S. census survey. Now, normally I would decline to participate in things like this because I’m a millennial and do not like to be uncomfortable or inconvenienced and I sure as heck don’t like having strangers in my home. But I had also spent that morning block-walking for Beto O’Rourke’s senate campaign and the sting of having doors slammed in my face was still fresh.

So I let him inside.

He asked some preliminary questions to see whether I or my boyfriend would be chosen for the survey. It was me, of course.

At first, the questions were pretty generic, but the surveyor said they would adjust based on my answers. Boy did they. Once we got into the section on medical care the questions got really real, really fast.

In the last six months have you forgone medical care due to cost? Yes.

In the last six months have you forgone mental health care due to cost? Yes.

In the last six months have you needed to see a therapist but did not go due to cost? Yes.

On a scale of all the time, most of the time, some of the time, or never, how often do you feel anxious? Most of the time.

When was the last time you felt like a failure?

Yes, that was an actual census question generated by my previous responses. I looked across the table at my boyfriend. His eyes crinkled. He wanted to laugh. So did I. But I also wanted to cry.

See, just that week I had been in the midst of an existential crisis. I felt uncertain about my future, about my purpose, about my goals and dreams and whether or not all of my hard work would ever amount to anything. I was feeling lost. I was feeling scared. I looked at my boyfriend and said, “I feel like a failure.”

We commiserated about approaching thirty while still feeling so clueless about life. So clueless about everything. I think we may even have pulled up some of those depressing videos about space and the impossible size of the universe. You know the ones that zoom out to show the infinite number of galaxies neighboring us and as a result also show how pointless this all is; how alone we really are.

Feeling like a “failure” was strange because I didn’t even really know what that meant. What measuring stick was I using exactly? Because by all accounts, I’ve been adulting for over ten years and actually have a lot to show for it. I have my own home, a fairly new and working vehicle, a meaningful job with a steady paycheck, health insurance, an Emergency fund, a dog.

But…I don’t want to measure my life in stuff. In markers of adulthood that someone else told me were important. I want to measure my life in meaning. All of those awesome things that are the result of my hard work and determination, what do they all mean?

What do I mean? What does anything mean?

I was spiraling.

But there was also some good news. The good news was that, all those nights when I lay awake, on the verge of tears, thinking about whether or not I mattered, I wasn’t wrestling with the darkness alone. The Universe was listening. The little old man who asked me when was the last time I’d felt like a failure was proof.

These feelings, these questions tend to come and go. Every 2-3 years they come hurtling at me like a train. But the collision isn’t to knock me off course. It’s to wake me up. To help me see that going through the motions is not living. That every moment of every day I can be intentional about how I’m spending my time and with who, that I can be intentional about choosing joy, or at least curiosity on days when joy is too far away. I can be intentional about what I create and consume. I can make choices in a split second that will plunge me deeper into my own fears or liberate me from them.

I can live in the questions, be crushed under their weight, or I can stop waiting for someone else to give me the answers and give them to myself. I can give meaning to my life in ways big and small. I can decide that I matter. I matter. I matter.

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