Anatomy of a low self-esteem

I don’t have much time to blog this morning, but here’s something that happened this week. It is a small thing – only one short train of thought – but having gotten over it feels like a victory disproportionate to the original shitty thought spiral that inspired it.

So, I don’t think of myself as a person with a low self-esteem. I don’t. I am fully capable of taking pride in my accomplishments. I know the things I’m good at. I feel that I am realistic about the things I’m not so good at. (I feel the opposite of this when anxiety is bad, but for some reason I never remember this when I’m not particularly anxious – in fact, I tend to write it off that way, “of course I feel stupid and incompetent today, I’m super anxious, it has nothing to do with my self-esteem when I’m a fully functioning human.”) I’m sure my self-esteem has gotten better with the years – most of the time, I am fairly confident about what I am doing, what I want to be doing, and what I need to do to accomplish what I want to do in the future.

A few weeks ago I got accepted to the first of the four law schools I applied to. I was, of course, mad excited, because – I mean, a bunch of you read my anxiety-fueled cryfest of a few months ago, this was not something I was terribly confident was going to happen. This school reached its decision within a week of receiving my application, and within two weeks, had offered me half of my tuition in merit scholarships. I say this not to brag, but because it’s important to make this clear: I only applied to schools I love; I got into a school I love; a school I love wants to wipe out $81,000 dollars of debt for me, based only on the content of my application. This is something to be proud of. This is something I am very proud of. (I texted my mom and my dad a picture of the acceptance letter the second it came, with many, many exclamation points.) This is something that, if I go to this school and graduate from it, I will look back on and still be very proud of.

I don’t know where the intrusive thought came from. I don’t know what inspired it. But I found myself wondering, in the days that followed, why they’d given me that scholarship. It was just a distant, back-of-the-mind way, hardly even conscious thought, but every time I passed the kitchen table where my acceptance letter lay, I looked at the numerical figure on it and thought that that was a hell of a lot of money. As big a scholarship as I’d gotten for my undergrad. A few days later, I put the letter away, because I felt vaguely guilty about it. Maybe somebody else had deserved that money more. Maybe something on my application had been misleading – maybe I’d accidentally made it look like I was in more financial need than I was. This turned rather quickly into doubts about the school (which I’d spent days researching and moving up on the short list when I first started this ridiculous process) – maybe, if it was the kind of school that would give me that much money two weeks after receiving my application, it wasn’t that good a school after all! Maybe they were, like, desperate for students in the J.D. program. Maybe I should look again.

Looking at it set out like that, it’s the world’s most ridiculous train of thought. Would you look at those mental gymnastics! Holy shit! I was so determined to believe that I wasn’t good enough for this school, that to knock myself down further, I knocked down the entire school! I was willing to doubt the scholarly reputation of this entire well-regarded institute of higher learning just to justify my own low self-esteem! Jesus Christ! Who does that? That’s fucking crazy!

And, there– that’s the victory. Right there. This week I caught myself thinking that (not hours after getting waitlisted at a second school), and I stopped and I frowned and I thought, Jesus Christ– that’s fucking crazy. And I stopped thinking it. And a few hours later, it crossed my mind again, and I thought, That’s fucking crazy, and I stopped.

It’s still a little bit passive. It’s not an active FUCK YOU to the creeping mold that is weird stealth-anxiety, nor exactly a positive affirmation of myself. But it carries heavy implication of both of those things, and that is a beginning. This was a victory: The ability to look at a train of thought that was not even conscious, and to acknowledge that it was fucking crazy. To acknowledge that knocking down other people’s accomplishments to make yourself feel smaller is every bit as stupid and selfish as doing it to make yourself feel bigger.

Yo, I accomplished a big thing. I got over myself and applied to a school I gave a shit about; I got over myself and filled out the financial aid application; I got rewarded for my hard work, and I got lucky in a way I wasn’t expecting to. I’ve been given one hell of an opportunity, and now it’s time to get over myself and take some time to feel grateful, and excited, and blessed.

I also accomplished a small thing. There is one less downward spiral of thought in my psyche now. There is one small rock in my mental shoes that has fallen out. My thoughts are less fucking crazy than they were a week ago. Hang this one on the fridge, next to my acceptance letter! A big gold star that says I GOT OVER MYSELF. An engraved plaque that says TIME TO THINK ABOUT MORE IMPORTANT SHIT NOW. A little ribbon that says CONGRATULATIONS.

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2 Responses to Anatomy of a low self-esteem

  1. Kenna says:

    I want to make you a gold star! I will put rhinestones on it if you like and a big “CONGRATULATIONS” written in silver.

  2. Pingback: Jesuit homilies, self-compassion, and mediocre poetry | I WROTE THING

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