The Shame I Feel

I’m stupid. I’m inadequate. I am a failure.

This is what I grew up believing about myself, and there was no place that proved these points more often, more relentlessly, and more consistently than school. All day long, five days a week I was shown what a poor performer I was.

“Does not apply herself.”

“F in effort.”


“Does not engage socially enough.”

I know now that throughout my childhood I was in survival mode. It was the only mode I knew. Get through the week, enjoy the weekend, go back. I also believe now that I have an undiagnosed learning disorder. ADD or ADHD.

The symptoms I’ve read about fit. Overwhelm at too much stimulation. Distracted by outside noise. A need for specific directions when traveling. A need for solitude and quiet. An inability to multi-task. Daydreaming.

I’ve taken some of the online tests and results come back mixed. But the questions are crummy and one dimensional. For instance: “Do you have trouble focusing?”

I’ve written three novels and one memoir, all of which required intense focus. They each took years to write, and tons of research and an ability to pull threads and information from different sources to use or support story.

But can I sit in a meeting and listen to someone drone on about statistics and power points? No. Do I lose focus in such a setting? I never had it, just as I could never attain it in school.

I could learn what I was interested in – reading, stories, diagramming sentences. But science? Math? History, which was basically just an advertisement for the patriarchy? No. I couldn’t focus on these things. They ran through my brain the way water runs through a bladder.

I suppose I was fortunate that at the time I was going to school, there were no diagnostic tests for ADD. ADD wasn’t even named yet. And because of that I was never given drugs to “correct” my “disorder.” I maintained as best I could. I graduated from high school and pursued no further institutionalized education. I started working odd jobs. I learned immensely from these jobs, and from the people I worked beside. And after a time, when I realized writing doesn’t do itself, I applied myself to producing a novel. And when that was published I wrote another, followed by a memoir and another novel recently published, The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson.

But what I’ve come to realize lately, and what made me cry recently, was the understanding that publishing a book slams my face right into the wall of my “disorder.” Suddenly the things that kept me focused while writing no longer apply to the task of publishing and promoting. I am back in veritable school again.

And this makes me sad. The thing I have loved all my life, telling stories and writing, the thing I have made great sacrifices to pursue ends up, if I publish, asking more of me than I can give, or more than I can give while maintaining the things I need to write more stories.

To write a novel, my attention cannot be fractured into a million different directions. Politics, panic, tracking sales, researching blogs and seeking reviews for the book just published, traveling, socializing and mingling too much, chatter, TV, too much social media, too many voices, etc., are all things that send my mind skittering, and then drying up, like water thrown on a hot skillet. Writing a novel requires a focus like none other.

At the point where a book is published a lot is asked of an author. I can manage the details to a point, but then I cave, and the reason I cave is not because I am stupid, and not because I am inadequate, and not because I am a failure, but because I am me.

It is ironic that at the time when I should most feel like a success, when my book is being published, I am pushed into the place where I feel the least adequate, where I feel stupid, where I feel like a failure simply because of my inability to function in a system that overwhelms me.

Yes, I had a good cry yesterday when I came to realize this. I cried for the adult me who struggled yesterday with the timeline of the new book while also struggling with trying to understand how to contact bloggers and ask them to review the previous book. I cried because I recognized this as shame. A feeling I have carried since childhood over my inability to make sense of the adult world. Being an adult has not helped me make any more sense of it.

But, it’s good to know this irony. This shame. It’s good to recognize it for what it is, and get help. And by help I don’t mean that I’ll be going to a doctor and getting drugs. Screw that. There’s really nothing wrong with me except that I find society a difficult task master, which I tend to believe is a sign of mental health.

The help I will be getting will be to hire out some tasks, as many as I can afford, so I can do the thing I can’t hire out – writing.

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7 Responses to The Shame I Feel

  1. Wow. I recognize a lot of me in you.

  2. Bill Spransy says:

    In 2011, I wrote a memoir about a singular spiritual event which catapulted my wife and I out of lifelong low orbit into an orbit where we’ve been blessed to kiss the face of God. The focus that such a task took was beyond anything I’ve ever done professionally and, why, I don’t anticipate ever doing such again. Bless the editors, publicists and bloggers for having the passion to the “little” things that are beyond a writers grasp. Keep up the great work Nanxy the world will soon catch up to you

  3. Terri Bryson says:

    What a wonderful blog! Many people have struggled with the pressures of society but unfortunately didn’t come to realize, as you did, that those structures just don’t fit them. There’s nothing wrong with them, perhaps. The pressure is wrong—perhaps standardization of people is wrong and unhealthy for some?

  4. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I relate to this.

    As a father, I see so much of me (younger me, current me) in my daughter.

    She has the same magical ability to enter a flow state while drawing as I did at that age with art, just as I do now with writing.

    The flip side of my hyperfocus super power is that I constantly struggle with overstimulation when not in a flow state.

    I notice every little detail around me. Every sound is magnified.

    My daughter is the same.

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