This is one in a series of posts I’m calling “Snapshots of my Depression.” These are memories of times in my life when my mental illness manifested itself in one way or another.
I wish I could remember the details. I really don’t. All I know is that I was miserable. It was awards night in ninth grade, and I did not want to be there. This photo that was published in the local paper tells the story pretty well:
That’s me second from the right. Look how excited I was to be named “Most Outstanding Boy”! That’s not me being serious or serene. That’s me being grumpy. I remember there were dozens of awards handed out that evening, and I received several of them. You’d think that would make me happy. But I have always had a strange relationship with this sort of recognition.
It’s not that I was shy. While I’m certainly an introvert, I’ve never been particularly shy. And it’s not that I didn’t think I earned academic honors. I knew that I was smart. I knew that I’d achieved excellent grades. And it’s not that I just hated awards. There was a part of me (not visible in this photo) that has always appreciated being recognized. But there has also always been this part that hates it, hates it, hates it.
I still feel that way. Just a few years ago, when I was officially installed as pastor of my current congregation, it was a wonderful day. The congregation put together an excellent celebration dinner, and gave me some very thoughtful and generous gifts.
I deeply appreciated it, and still do. But there was also a piece of me that felt afterwards, “I didn’t deserve any of that.” There was a voice inside me that said, “Look how much faith they have in you. You will very seriously disappoint them.” There was a voice that said, “I wish they hadn’t gone to all this trouble. Then when they find out who I really am, the disappointment would have been less.” Now, I’ve gotten much better at hiding these feelings. I certainly didn’t stand up front that day with a scowl on my face. But trust me…afterward, that scowl was there. Afterward, I was so upset that they gave me so much, that they believed in me so much, that they trusted me so much.
Because that voice kept on telling me, “You will disappoint them. You always give a good audition. You always give a good job interview. You always impress people with your potential. But then you blow it. All you are is potential. Potential that never, ever works out.” And while there is certainly some evidence to show that I do sometimes fail to live up to potential, there is also tons of evidence to show that the opposite is often true as well. My potential does work out a good amount of the time. That voice is a liar. But damn, it is convincing.
And I think maybe that’s what was going on in ninth grade. Maybe I was hearing an early iteration of that same voice, the one that never believes that I fulfill my potential, the one that thinks of me as a sham, a con artist, a poseur. I really don’t remember. I just remember being miserable. Just wishing I wasn’t there. And I remember that photo…wow, that photo just haunts me.