“When I won the Oscar, I thought it was a fluke. I thought everybody would find out, and they’d take it back. They’d come to my house, knocking on the door, ‘Excuse me, we meant to give that… to Meryl Streep.’”
Goody Two Shoes…
Growing up, I was the “good” child. I was a goody-two-shoes, both at home and in school. My siblings made fun of me for following all the household rules as if I were in the military. No questions asked, no backtalk given, I did what I was told. In school, other students called me “teacher’s pet” and said I was a smarty-pants. I listened to my teachers, I did my homework and turned it in on time, I followed the school’s rules.
All through elementary school I was like this, both at home and in school. I never wanted to step out of line for fear of getting attention for the wrong reasons. Teachers favored me, telling me how smart I was and how good a student I was. My parents praised me for getting good grades, good reports from the teachers, and for doing what I was told. But truthfully, I was left mostly to do my own thing because I could be trusted to do the right thing.
The invisible rebellion
At the age of 12–in middle school–I started a small and understated rebellion. I was bored in class and angry that the more rambunctious kids got attention. Teachers barely paid attention to me because I was one of the “good” students. There were many times that I thought my teachers didn’t bother to look at anything I turned in because they didn’t have to worry about me as a student. They assumed that I was doing things correctly and that I would deserve an “A” on my work…and that’s generally what I got.
Between the boredom and the lack of attention, I was so irritated that I started skipping classes. Sometimes I would just wander around the building and other times I would go hang out in the guidance counselor’s office or the secretary’s office. I never left the building, so I wasn’t technically truant, but I was out of the actual classrooms. I think there was a lot of time that my parents didn’t even realize that I was “skipping” class because I stayed on school grounds.
The power of sick
When the guidance counselor told me that I could no longer hang out in her office, I had to come up with some other idea. I realized if I said I was sick, I would not only be dismissed from class but I would be relieved of other obligations. Being sick gave me a kind of freedom from being the good kid…from responsibilities and expectations that came along with being the “good student.”
If I said I was sick, I was able to go home in the middle of the school day. Both my parents worked full time at that point, so I either walked home, or if I had money I took a cab. At home I was free to do what I wanted until one of my siblings or my parents came home. And since I was a “good kid” my parents didn’t question if I was actually sick. They assumed if I said I was sick then I was telling the truth.
Caught! (Or… not!)
Eventually my parents saw my quiet rebellion and things came to a halt. I was told in no uncertain terms that I was to return to my formerly good student/child life… period. I was too afraid to say no, so as I moved into high school, I left my small rebellion behind.
Instead of being bored and pouting about it, I turned everything around and flew through high school. I took as few classes in the day as I could and still graduate. When I wasn’t in school, I was working part time retail. I saw the brass ring hanging out there and I wanted it. I was only in school for three classes in my last year of high school. I got to leave the building in time to go to my job where I was earning money for my car and for gas and insurance. That meant freedom! Independence!
The cost of “just enough”
As expected by my parents, I went to college. I took classes that looked easy and I breezed through most of them. I was still working while I was in college and I think my parents felt relief that their “good kid” was on track. Unfortunately, in college I ran into the same kind of inattention/disinterest from professors. After the first few assignments of each class — when the teachers realized that I was smart and knew what I was doing, — they stopped reading my work. I know this because I started turning in shoddy work and still got A’s.
It was disappointing and frustrating. I was left aside for students who needed more assistance. To this day I feel I missed out on a lot of education, but at the time I didn’t do anything about it. I probably would have gotten a better result if I stood up and asked for more attention, but I hated being the center of attention or “rocking the boat.” I skated through instead, and graduated without much issue.
During my junior and senior years of college, I started working full time and going to class part time. I found a career path that had nothing to do with my schooling but had everything to do with things that interested me. Technology. I excelled at my job(s) and took pride in my work.
As I moved up through the ranks of my technology job(s), I began to feel Imposter Syndrome in. I had grown up feeling as if I weren’t good enough, and that ingrained feeling led me right into feeling as if I were an imposter in my job; And essentially, in my life. I felt I didn’t deserve any of the things that I had.
And then there was this guy…
I met a young man while I was in college. Our early relationship was online, but then we began dating (irl). I didn’t date in high school or even mostly in college. I felt like I didn’t deserve to have a boyfriend. And when I got a boyfriend, I never felt good enough for him. It wasn’t that he was better than me in some way, it was my old baggage of never feeling good enough for anyone, or anything.
I still living at home with my parents when I started dating my boyfriend. My mother didn’t approve. He lived over an hour away by highway and he didn’t have a driver’s license. That meant I was on the road almost constantly. In my mother’s eyes, I was taking almost daily risk by dating my young man. Once again I was “not good enough.”
Tested by fire
This was, however, one of the few times I outright defied my mother to her face. About six months into the relationship, I got sick. I was diagnosed with Mononucleosis and Strep Throat at the same time. I was hospitalized overnight so I could get pain medication and rehydration by IV. After I was released it took many more months to completely recover, especially from the overwhelming fatigue. My boyfriend still didn’t drive and I wasn’t well enough to visit him, and he understood.
I realized this young man had a kind of deep compassion that was unfamiliar to me. How could he care for me so much? I couldn’t imagine ever being worthy of the kind of love and acceptance he offered me. As we continued our relationship, I found that one part of me was dying to believe him when he said he loved me as I was. Yet my internal voice kept up the relenting chorus of “not good enough.” I couldn’t seem to silence it. Instead I stuffed it down deep, attempting to hide it from the young man who eventually became my husband.
“The body keeps the score.”
I didn’t feel good enough as an employee, a wife, a daughter or a sister, so my body resorted to what had worked for me as a pre-teen: It made me sick to release me from all those feelings of not good enough. If I was sick, I didn’t feel like I had the obligation or responsibility of trying to be good enough. I didn’t have to do things that were good enough.
I had several vague illnesses that had no real source. I had labels put on me by different doctors that amounted to different “syndromes,” which really is just a collection of symptoms that couldn’t be attributed to anything specific. I had pain symptoms, fatigue, dizziness, balance issues, gastric issues. I went through a lot of doctors and a lot of tests, but I was never really given any concrete answers. Doctors attempted to help me resolve symptoms, but they were unable to give me the reason why I was sick. And I was really sick. A lot of times I couldn’t get out of bed. I was too fatigued and painful, I took a leave of absence from my job to deal with my ill health.
The enemy within
After almost nine months, I was released from my job because I could not return in a timely fashion. I was sick in this way for close to eight years, although at one point I was writing (and publishing) books. During this specific time I felt very involved in a community and my symptoms waned. They were still with me, but it was manageable. But for the most part my symptoms ranged in severity and specifics over the years.
I was unable to hold a job during those 8 years. Most of my family and my husband understood my limitations, and rarely did they ask too much of me. If they did and I could not meet their expectations, they always made sure to tell me that it was no big deal. I wasn’t ever looking for attention when I was sick. I hated the ongoing doctor’s appointments and tests, so it wasn’t that I was seeking attention. I now think I was seeking a break from my own expectations for myself. If I wasn’t well then I didn’t have to strive for the perfection I expected of myself.
A few years later,
I actually started feeling better and was able to do more in my life. My home circumstances changed, my parents were living very close by and I was spending more time with them. My husband continued to pursue his technology career and we finally felt more financially stable. Although I still felt badly that I was not bringing in any income, my husband was fine with the situation. My body began to heal, my mind felt comfortable, my spirit was buoyed. I was living in a way that was working for my body. I didn’t push myself too much, and yet when I needed my strength it was there. I felt at peace with my health even though it wasn’t perfect.
The power of purpose
Then my mother was diagnosed with cancer. A relatively rare and aggressive cancer. My life changed, and so did my purpose.
I became my mother’s cheerleader, her caretaker, her confidant, her friend. I was her secretary during doctor’s appointments. I took copious notes to review later. I helped keep her calendar. I was with her all the time, keeping her occupied, keeping her on schedule, keeping her fed. (This from the child/person who never cooked or baked because she knew in her heart her food would never be as good as her mother’s food!)
I had flashes of doubt and Imposter Syndrome, but it usually ended up being drowned out by the things I need to do for my mother. My health stabilized and I found energy and strength that I didn’t know I possessed anymore. Taking care of my mom was not an obligation or responsibility; It was love. That was why my body allowed me to do that. I was good enough to love her that way.
After my mother’s two-year battle and her passing, I grieved terribly. Other than my husband, my mother was my best friend. During the two years she lived with this wretched cancer, I spent almost every free minute with her. Losing her left me devastated and lost. For two years I had a job, a purpose, and despite having no experience with caring for a sick person or dealing with cancer, I had been good at it. No one asked me to do the things I did or act the way I did, I just did it. I didn’t worry if what I was doing was good enough (until the end) because I was too involved in participating in my mother’s life and fight. But afterward I floundered.
I looked for charities and volunteer opportunities to find a new purpose. But about a year and a half after my mother died, my body rebelled again. Thinking about it now I would not call it a rebellion, I would call it a rescue.
A strangely-wrapped gift
I had a very severe case of classic and vestibular migraine disease. There were months in the beginning where I could not leave my bed. Months where I could not walk, months when I had to go to doctor’s appointments in a wheelchair with dark glasses on even indoors. It took me close to two years to even begin to find recovery with medications, diet, supplements, vestibular therapy, and exercise. And then 2020 hit, and any of the plans I had to participate more fully in life fell away. I was given the opportunity to really focus on my mental health, on my healing, and on my transformation. My physical recovery continued–sometimes slowly and sometimes in leaps and bounds–and I focused my mental recovery on becoming who I wanted to be. And along the way, I have made some pretty surprising discoveries.
This discovery about my physical body and the illnesses that plague it, came unintended. I was going to work on a blog about a different discovery I’d had in therapy over 2020, and a whole different set of words came out. About my health, and how it has affected my life, mentally and emotionally.
My body tried to save me from the torment of feeling not good enough; Of the daily mental and emotional torture of feeling not good enough. When my career became “too much” and I began suffering with imposter syndrome and endless feelings of “not good enough,” my body introduced an illness that took over my life and my focus. When I was sick, I had a long respite from those “not good enough” feelings because I was released from the expectation of achievement and the “not good enough” that felt like its inevitable companion. When I was sick, all I had to do was exist. Obligations and responsibilities fell away during both lengthy illnesses…I allowed myself to put away concerns of “Am I good enough?” because surviving was good enough.
Reconciling to myself
This realization was actually quite difficult for me. My first instinct was to be embarrassed that I “made myself sick” to avoid obligations and responsibilities, (even when the obligations, responsibilities, and expectations were from myself.) How do I tell my husband that I, (or my body,) made me sick so that I didn’t have to deal with guilt or shame or criticism or judgement over whether or not I was good enough for…anything?
Fortunately, my work in therapy came into play and I reminded myself that I did not consciously make the choice to be sick. It was an autonomic response. And then I reminded myself that without that person — the one who was sick on and off for many years — I would not be the person I am today.
Compassion, understanding, gratitude, forgiveness
Thanks to my therapy, I am choosing to have compassion for the young girl and the young woman whose body did its best to shield and relieve her of the ongoing mental and emotional pain that would have beat her down in an ongoing fashion for all the years she was sick. I am grateful for the sacrifice that my body made for my psychological health, even if it felt like a struggle to survive during those years.
****NOTE**** I would like to mention here that my chronic illnesses have been and are 100% real and sometimes physically disabling. I have not had a miraculous recovery since coming to understand that there might be at least partly psychological reasons for why I was and am sick. I have no idea what recovery might look and feel like, and I am not suggesting that anyone else’s chronic illnesses are not physiological.
Ever wonder if YOU are good enough? Contact Tiffany here, and let’s talk about how you might figure that out.