Unworthy

Today’s post is not just an excuse to use an image like this:

They weren't worthy! Neither am I! Image: teamliquid.net

They weren’t worthy! Neither am I!
Image: teamliquid.net

However, while it may not have been the main reason, I have to admit the thought of using this image was part of my decision-making process. I love ‘Wayne’s World’, the ‘We’re Not Worthy!’ sketch has always made me laugh, and – I promise – there’s a connection ‘twixt image and blog post. Today I wanted to write a bit about something which has been weighing on me lately, and it’s connected with a feeling of unworthiness, or a nagging sense of I’m not good enough and I should just give up now before I make an idiot of myself and everyone is probably secretly laughing at me.

It’s an extremely damaging thing, this feeling. Not only for my efforts to create a career, but also for my own mental health. As well as all that, it’s completely ridiculous, but I find it difficult to remember that at times.

Ever since I started to write, and made it public (i.e. by submitting work wherever I could submit it, starting this blog and telling people about what I was up to, and trying not to cringe while I described myself as ‘a writer’), I’ve received nothing but solid support. Everyone – including friends of friends, people who only know me through my parents or my husband or, amazingly, people who don’t know me in real life at all and who I’ve only met through the medium of the internet – has lifted me up on a swell of encouragement and has been delighted to hear about my efforts; several people have even told me how impressed they are by my decision to follow a dream and do my best to live the life I’ve always wanted. Sometimes, I wonder if this is part and parcel of being a writer in Ireland, where I still think creativity is seen as a good and noble thing and not completely off-the-wall – but then, I’ve received support from all over the world, so perhaps that’s beside the point. Whatever the reason, I am grateful beyond measure for every smidgen of encouragement, and I hope this feeling I’m trying to describe, this feeling of ‘unworthiness’, won’t be understood as ungrateful rejection of all the generous and loving support I’ve been lucky enough to receive. That’s not what I mean, at all. These unworthy feelings are something I’m imposing on myself; it’s not out of character for me, but I really wish I could stop doing it.

It all began to manifest like this: on one of the recent occasions where I had something accepted for publication, I remember greeting the news not with unalloyed joy and a sense of accomplishment, but with a tinge of discomfort and upset. I’ve been trying to work out why ever since, and I’ve concluded that it was because despite working hard over the story, I felt wasn’t good enough, and I hadn’t been expecting it to be accepted, and when it was – well. My brain sort of flipped.

I couldn’t bring myself to think that ‘maybe the story was a little bit better than you’d thought it was’ or ‘perhaps you’re being a little hard on yourself’; I started to think damaging and destructive things like ‘they must have been short on entries’ or ‘they needed to fill a space in the publication.’ Now, I’m pretty sure those things aren’t true. I’m pretty sure the publishers had no shortage of stories to choose from. They chose mine, but I couldn’t allow myself to be pleased. I started doing that thing I do – you know the one, where I have a reaction which I know is irrational and silly, but I can’t help myself – and it felt really unpleasant. I felt like I was unworthy of the honour of having my story accepted, like the publishers were doing me a favour instead of saying ‘This story is good enough to form part of our publication’; it made me feel very odd. I didn’t like it. At the same time, I didn’t really know what to do in order to tackle it.

Writing is not an easy thing – I’m not even talking about the act of pulling words out of your brain and slapping them down on a page, though that is difficult too, of course. What I mean is, it’s not an easy thing to spend so much time by yourself, and to have little but your own thoughts for company; even if, like me, you’re a person who enjoys being alone and who thrives in the world of the mind, it can be a challenge. I’m beginning to wonder if too much time spent thinking can lead to the struts which keep your mind steady buckling a little under the strain, which can affect the way you see the world and yourself, and your place in it. It’s hard, too, to pressure yourself just enough to meet all your obligations and deadlines without exerting too much force, and ending up pressuring yourself into oblivion. When you only have yourself to regulate the pressure, it’s clear that sometimes things can go wrong.

So, I’m taking that on board today, and I’m going to think about ways in which I can create a new balance in my life without sacrificing too much of my writing time. I may take a few days’ leave from the blog – a little holiday, perhaps – and I may print out, in big letters, a sign which says the words YOU ARE ENOUGH! and place it over my desk. I am enough – I do enough – I will be enough.

I hope nobody can relate to this post, and that you’re all too clever to allow yourselves to fall into a trap like this one. I hope that your writing lives (and your non-writing lives, come to that!) are flourishing, that you’re taking it easy, and not piling pressure on your own heads. Thank you for all your support – I hope I’ll be able to continue counting on it! – and I hope Tuesday turns out to be a jewel of a day for all of you.

And remember – you are enough!

8 thoughts on “Unworthy

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Wow, man. That’s cosmic, or something.

      You’re welcome! Crazy weirdness must be in the air. Hope you feel better soon! Because, like, you’re awesome, and stuff. 🙂

      Reply
  1. Kate Curtis

    I can certainly relate to this post – but I think I have *reason* to feel that way about my writing! 🙂

    What you know and how you feel often don’t mesh. That is very human. On one hand I know I’ve worked really hard to be where I am (and I’m not talking about my writing, I mean generally). But if I’m congratulated or complimented for something, I believe it to be a fluke or the person is mistaken or they grossly exaggerate the situation.

    I have imposter syndrome (Google it), it’s when you feel like a fraud. Even as I’m writing this, even understanding that *is* probably what I suffer from, I believe that nice things people say are unfounded and one day I’ll be discovered to be as useless as I believe I am.

    I know this. I doesn’t change how I feel, but it helps, as does a bit of writerly assurance which I send your way *hugs*.

    You’re worth reading Sinéad and you deserve to be published and although you may never believe it yourself, it’s the truth others see.

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      *Googles ‘impostor syndrome’*

      That’s fascinating, you know. I’d never heard of it before just now, but it does seem to hit the nail on the noggin, right enough. I’m sort of comforted to know you understand how I feel, but sad that you don’t believe in your own accomplishments, Kate. I know we’ve never met, but it’s clear to me, even from all the way over here, how fabulous you are.

      Thank you for your kind words – as always, you’re a stalwart supporter, and I have a lot to thank you for – and I hope, one day, they’ll start to sink in! I hope I can be as much help to you as you’ve been to me. Thank you for your lovely (and insightful) comment. xx

      Reply
  2. Claire Hennessy (@clairehennessy)

    “I’m beginning to wonder if too much time spent thinking can lead to the struts which keep your mind steady buckling a little under the strain, which can affect the way you see the world and yourself, and your place in it.”
    YES. THIS, Oh good grief yes.

    I was in Annaghmakerrig a few months back, as I think I probably mentioned on the twitters, and on the one hand it was really useful and brilliant and I got an incredible amount done (and plan to go back again). On the other hand, it was really intense and often upsetting (nothing to do with anyone there or anything like that – just the intensity, I think, that isolation from the world-at-large and spending far too much time in your own head) and I had all those feelings of ‘I shouldn’t be here’ and ‘what am I doing’. And I LOVE being locked away in a room and working on my own and all those other good things, but too much of it is a little crazy-inducing.

    And yes, impostor syndrome! See this with lots of people, especially smart women. 🙂

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Wahey! I like what you did there, Claire. *feels like a smart woman* 😀 *bumps back down to earth with a ‘what were you thinking?’*

      It’s amazingly comforting to know that this isn’t just happening to me. It really does make me feel a little less insane. Only a little, but enough to make a difference. I’m glad you achieved so much while in Annaghmakerrig, and hope your next visit will be as productive – but let’s hope you remember not to pressure your brain too much.

      We’re all going to be okay. I feel it in my old-lady-bones. 🙂 Thanks so much for your comment, Claire – I really appreciate your insight!

      Reply

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