Fear of Failing

Saturday, November 17, 2007

This time of year makes me feel a bit twitchy, I think.

I go from being agitated to bored to hyper anxious, in the span of a few minutes.

Now, what some of you do know and all of you are about to learn is that I have a stupendous fear of failure.

"Oh Dawn", I hear you say, "We ALL have a fear of failure! That's normal."

Well, imaginary internet audience, I agree. In fact, as a human species we tend to use this to our advantage. We move forward. A little fear keeps us on our toes.

That's not what I am talking about. Tonight, as the fear creeps up on me, my heart starts to pound. I begin to wish for an Ativan which will disconnect the fight or flight response which is beginning to flood my brain.

My ability to be avoidant when confronted with Fear can be legendary. Just ask my PhD adviser, as she tries to get me to commit to meeting with her. I drop off the proverbial radar. I become the invisible lady.

Or, I stuff it so deeply in my subconscious that I cope with it through dreams for YEARS following the event.

I referenced in an earlier posting that I have been lucidly dreaming as of late. Where I KNOW I am dreaming, and yet I choose to continue with the storyline, albeit in a more controlled fashion. I am not a dream analyst or even a dream Anal-rapist, like Tobias Fucke (Analyst and Therapist) but I do know that the things I have been doing in these dreams are different.

In 2001, I was fired. More precisely, because my employer didn't have legitimate means for terminating me, they "eliminated my position" . Of course, I was the Director of the Child Care for a Housing Authority in Southern New Hampshire.

To say that this event scarred me is a little under stating the enormity of it.

In August 2001, I called for treatment of my post-partum depression. Emily was three and my depression had grown so deep that I wasn't sure that I could ever climb out. It was during this time that I started fearing talking to the staff at the center. I feared everything. I couldn't cope with decision making about anything, let alone budgetary matters. And the budget, at that point, was in shambles.

I got my work evaluation in August of 2001. It was very positive - as the copies I kept tell me.

In September 2001, I entered therapy. I started medication for my depression. I started taking days off,as my therapy would leave me exhausted and we were in a heavy ( twice a week) schedule until I stabilized.

I told my Assistant Director about the situation, but I was loathe to tell my Executive Director. Meetings with him felt tenuous since he had once lay into me in the office of the child care - asking my book keeper and secretary to offer their criticisms of me then and there. It was demoralizing and brutal. When I look back into my personal journal entries of the time, I was devastated. I was a new Mom of a fussy infant. I was running a child care with 30 plus staff and 120 children. My husband had quit his job to start his own business the month before I delivered Emily, so I had to go back to work at 11 weeks post partum, as I was carrying the health insurance for the whole family.

I approached my Asst Director in October, 2001 about me dropping to four days a week for the upcoming year. I wanted her buy in before we presented this to the Executive Director. It would help some of the budget issues, as I would take a cut in pay - and give me time to heal myself.

We went to him together. The Asst Director and I sat with my proposal. I would go to four days a week. I needed a more flexible schedule for awhile, but I remained committed to the child care. I just needed time.

Later on, he emailed me. He asked me to tell him what was really going on. I made, in hindsight, a fatal error. I was so relieved that my plan seemed to be working, I admitted that I had started Prozac, and needed some time to get myself on an even keel. He quickly responded that he understood and that everything would be fine.

So stupid of me to believe that.

Later that month, I got sick. Super, super sick. While my brain was starting to re-boot and regain normalcy, my body had given up the ghost. What started as strep throat, moved into my ears and sinuses..then into my lungs. Pneumonia. And Shingles.

The day I made it into my doctors office from work ( as I was already on antibiotics for the strep and ear infections), I was at a stunning 70% oxygen saturation. I was an odd grayish color. I mentioned that I came from work, right?

I was out - as demanded by my doctor - for a month. Not shockingly, I had that time and much more in accrued sick time. As a person who had invested her entire entity into her work persona, I NEVER missed work. Never.

When I got back to my desk, it was after Thanksgiving. On my chair was a letter stamped confidential. In the letter, aside from telling me that the organization was "eliminating" my job as Director, were not-so veiled threats that I should resign so a positive recommendation for any future employment would be insured. If I recall correctly, I think there were some other things about me being a lousy employee and a bad manager.

I always wondered how much my admission of being on Prozac factored into the decision. It was also much later that I began to wonder about my Assistant Directors role in this bloodless coup. She, who I had defended countless times in meetings with this same Executive Director, may well have been hand in hand with the ousting of me. He liked to threaten to get rid of her when he was feeling like he needed to punish me.

I was at my weakest point. I allowed myself to be vulnerable. Actually, I had no choice, as my body had made the decision for me. I was the wounded antelope. After I finished crying, I just gave my resignation. I folded.

From then on, whenever I felt insecure or upset I would dream of the child care. I would dream of sneaking in through the back door. I would encounter people that I did not know, although I would insist that I was the Director of this place. I would wander lost and scared and angry through this dream child care center. I would wake from these dreams feeling the same way. Scared. Angry. Lost. Reliving my failure over and over.

In the last weeks, I have dreamed of the child care. These dreams are different, however. In these dreams, I am opening drawers in my former office. Drawers that are sealed with packing tape in my dream. I am opening them, stripping off the tape and sorting things out. I am giving things away in my dreams. I am emptying these drawers and saying goodbye to the people that I still recognize. The people I don't recognize I no longer chase after them insisting that I am the Director of this place.

I am still sorting these dreams out. I am still sorting through my feelings of failure - feelings which have kept me in relationships with old boyfriends, or old work places and old bosses far too long. Feelings which keep me running from PhD advisers. Feelings which make me hold onto past successes so tightly that I can miss new successes waiting for me.

9 Baleful Regards:

Marie said...

Your last two paragraphs allowed me to exhale... The way things transpired in the work situation, it sounds so hellish and underhanded. I have also dreamed or obsessively relived, ugly, traumatic events like this. I'm so glad your dreams seem to be helping you "process" and sort it out.

Jaelithe said...

Thank you for posting about this today. Seriously. I have terrible failure issues, too. I had a similarly underhanded work-related thing happen to me several months ago, and I am still not over it.

I wish I lived in Canada so I could have a maple syrup martini with you sometime. Except it's damn cold in Canada, and I don't like being cold. But maybe if I had twelve pairs of mittens I would feel better about it.

Anonymous said...

It's sad to hear that members of our society still have such an archaic view of depression. You absolutely did the right thing to take care of yourself first. The assholes at work have obviously never dealt with something like depression. Prozac should not be something you have to "admit" to taking. If it does the trick then those around you should be nothing but encouraging.

Courage and strength to you as you face your demons. Everyone has them. Most are just not honest enough to share about their struggle. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Dawn. I had no idea all that happened. I am sorry you were faced with that when you were so vulnerable, but I agree with Shannon that taking care of yourself was the most important thing (despite the great cost.)

It sounds like you are sorting through all your old demons through your dreams. I am glad to hear it.

Like Jaelithe, I wish I could be there in Montreal to have a maple martini (or five) with you right now.

Anonymous said...

I have too been through a traumatic event ( a divorce with a drinker) almost 3 years ago..and i still to this day dream about it all the time. I believe that its my brains way of eliminating the memories of the past that haunt me today..but its still hard.

Mitzi Green said...

i think there's a piece of mistreated children that never really grows up, leaving us as adults who still think of ourselves as the bad children in need of being punished by the "adults" in our lives. i've spent countless hours in the recent past telling myself, "i'm a grown-ass woman," and willing myself to believe it. i'm glad for you that you at least are moving in the right direction in your subconscious.

oh, and i just got one bitch of a word verification. dammit.

Anonymous said...

This was really powerful, thank you for writing it. I so admire you for dragging yourself out of this situation, however you had to, andfor coming out the other side. But dreams can be a bitch, can't they? I always think I have "dealt" with things and then I dream about them anyway.

Anonymous said...

Go back and read your post from November 7th, 2007, entitled Echo and Narcissus. Goddess, you slay me.

Anonymous said...

I'm a 21-year-old aspiring academic, and this post was inspirational. Like you, I have done everything to avoid meetings with research professors (for months!), because of my fear of failure. Just last week my employers asked why I had been missing so much work, and I simply said I was sick. Truth is, I recently went on Lexapro.

You're a very strong woman for being so open about your depression. I should learn from your example. Thanks, Dawn.

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