Keeping Never Good Enough at Bay

I went to a visit with a counselor recently, and talked about the persistent feeling of failure that is always there in the back of my mind. Logically, I know that I am taking steps to be a better parent, that I have changed so much about how I relate to my children, and yet most of the time I feel like I am a “bad mom”. Why? Because I could have more energy, do more fun projects, keep the house cleaner, never have grumpy days, in short, I could be perfect. Yeah, that perfectionism thing still dogs me.

The feeling hits me in other ways too, why haven’t I been able to pin down what exactly I want to pursue education in? Why can’t I make more money? Why do I still have so many insecurities and fears?

Why can’t I figure out how to make the time for my writing?  The time is there on the weekend, but I am not a morning person, especially after working 8 hours the night before, and then in the afternoon we spend time as a family for the first time all week, and in the evening I am back at my job again. The time is there during the weekday when I am at home with the kids, but even as I write this on a Monday morning my 18 month old is climbing up my arm and whacking me with a toy, and my 4 year old is calling me from the kitchen to come and see the picture she just finished painting. Focus becomes something difficult to maintain.

One thing the counselor brought up is how recent all this change has been, only 3 years since the decision to stop parenting punitively, only 2 years since acknowledging and getting help for my depression, a year since my religious perspective changed,  less than a year since we came out and started over and I got my first job. Despite our boring steady routine life, we have in fact been going through a lot of change in the last while.

This is new, and very different from my previous life. I have 25 years of messages about the role and capability of women to combat. I have 25 years under my belt of beliefs that people like me, women who worked outside the home, weren’t heterosexual, submissive to the man in their life, and ideally married and having baby after baby, were failures.  When I think of going back to that old life, I know I would not survive. I would rather die than live like that again. But that doesn’t mean that those mindsets from not so long ago have been eliminated from my brain. And it doesn’t mean that the decisions I made then don’t affect my life now.

There is a sense of loss, grieving things never experienced, opportunities lost. I can never go back and re-live those years I spent buried under the weight of depression. I can never get back the hours and hours spent repenting and crying and praying for relief. My earliest understandings and experiences of my sexuality will always be tied to so much shame. And the decisions I made then still impact my life now, a constant reminder of how much I held myself back and how I can’t change who I was then.

When my counselor reminded me how much of my life is brand new, it didn’t seem to be that profound. But as the weeks have gone by I’ve begun to think about how many people are going through life with baggage from things in their past that they can’t change. Whether it’s regretting a soul-sucking relationship that consumed years of one’s life, or still paying down debts for something you no longer want, our past doesn’t just disappear. It can be a constant companion or a distant memory waiting to be triggered at a moments notice, but it is always there.

For me, it gives me a renewed challenge to live in the now, even when the now includes young needy children, low wages, and a constant tiredness. To accept who I was then, to have compassion on who I was then. In the midst of grieving time wasted and opportunities lost,  I can not only give myself permission to live, but also permission to love, permission to be tired, permission to ask for help, permission to make mistakes,  permission to be imperfect.

The other night I was chatting with a coworker about starting over, and how in the last few months with my wages and tips combined and the help of government supplements to cover food costs, it was looking like we were going to make it through the winter just fine. That’s a good feeling.  My co-worker responded “You should be proud of yourself!” and I found myself smiling ear to ear as I realized that…

 I am!

I wrote this yesterday  which was a positive day, and today woke up feeling overwhelmed and down. I resonated strongly with this post from Bethany on the Day In and Day Out journey to keep the bad memories and past messages at bay.

We who start again are not alone.

We can accept the past, embrace the present, and look forward to the future.

We who face today with love and acceptance for ourselves and each other, change the world tomorrow.

  • Jennifer McBride

    I loved this post. I feel that “never good enough” feeling a lot. Even with all the work I do with positive thinking exercises and business ideas, I go through those same feelings almost every day. I worry about not being able to provide for myself and my kids. I worry about not living up to my own high expectations. Then I worry about getting down about those things because that triggers fear of being a bad partner. It’s a tough cycle and I love your advice to live in the now. But it’s not easy, I know.

    The other night at church, my pastor (who has been through her share of “real” life tragedies and issues) said that the main thing to do is to trust that things will be okay, even if they aren’t great right now. I did this when my babies were newborns, because I wasn’t sure they would live through the night if I wasn’t awake watching them. So I had to trust that they would be…and now 2/3rds of them are teenagers! I did this again in the last week because I was spending so much time worrying about some big things that are going on. It was amazing how letting go and focusing on right-this-very-second worked to break the negative self-talk cycle.

    Don’t get me wrong, though, it’s a constant battle. A constant need to remind myself that it’s okay to let go of worry for one minute, then maybe two.

    Thank you for writing your post AND for the honest change in how you felt just one day later. It’s real and it’s human and it’s so very necessary.

  • Rachel

    I felt my face tightening and the tears just below the surface through this whole lovely, wonderful, painful blog. And then I read “we who start again are not alone” and I lost it. Thank you for this, and thank you for being you.

  • Considerer

    Sounds like you’ve got a whole lot of acceptance and nurturing to do of yourself. A counsellor once told me “Given what you’ve been through, what you’re feeling is absolutely explainable and understandable”. It was solid and ongoingly useful as a point of reference for me. All the best with working out your new ‘normal’ and how you want to move things forward.

    And cut yourself some slack – it does sound like you’re doing very well, considering.

  • xcwn

    Thank you for this awesome post.

  • Catholic Mutt

    You are so right! Changing so many areas of your life and finding the way that all fits together for you now is not an overnight process. You have so much to be proud of.

  • kagekiri

    Excellent post, Melissa!

    I’ve had my own recent bouts of wallowing in my many past regrets and misspent Christian youth as I claw my way out of depression, and granting myself “permission to be imperfect” or to accepting an imperfect past at all is still really tough, along with other elements of self-acceptance.

    Thanks for the encouragement your stories always bring!

  • Maya

    You’ve made so many miraculous transformations- it’s no wonder your skin feels new and like you’re still breaking it in. Thank you for sharing that journey with us. It’s so beautiful that you’re learning patience with yourself in this way. It’s definitely worthy of pride.

  • November

    My sister and I often talk about the idea of being kind to our past selves–realizing that we did as well as we could, at the time, with what we had. I still have a hard time not beating myself up about the past, but I am working on being kind to my past self.

  • Bronwen

    Your counselor sounds wise! All I have to add is to link you to the Holmes and Rahe stress scale: This is a list of stressful life events that are known to increase the risk of illness, and it’s a good way to remind yourself that YES, you have had a lot of stressful events in your life, even if many of them had good outcomes! (I had to laugh when I read the list again – “Christmas” appears on the list!). My mother introduced me to this concept a while ago, when I was being hard on myself, and I’ve found it to be a good reminder. Obviously some of things on the list don’t quite fit exactly with your situation (the study was done in 1967, so sexual orientation/gender wasn’t a matter for study at that point), but it’s clear to me that the level of change you’ve gone through is staggering! Be kind to yourself! (oh, and just to point out, i had reason to look at this list myself when I had a year that involved getting married, moving countries, quitting a job, starting a new job, spouse starting a new job, etc. etc. etc.)

  • Amy

    Mel, I think part of this is the PTSD from religion. I really do!
    The saturation and the deep rooted messages that religion indoctrinates inside our psyche’s is powerful! I know you have heard me talk about this before, but I so believe it’s real. The same symptoms that war veterans and abuse survivors experience in PTSD, is the same list of symptoms from people that have come out of intense evangelical homes…constant doubt, never feeling good enough, depression, anxiety, deep sorrow and sadness, etc… the list goes on and on. I hope you continue to talk with a counselor about this. I LOVE that you were smiling from ear to ear, my friend! I know that I could tell you until I am green in the face what an incredible person, wife, mom, friend, daughter you are…but it’s that space of “knowing” and awakening to the truth that you REALLY are amazing that you have to come into. I know you are coming into it… it just takes time, and making that safe place for yourself and your heart to heal.

    Love you, friend!
    xo Amy

  • Bethany Bassett

    “I can not only give myself permission to live, but also permission to love, permission to be tired, permission to ask for help, permission to make mistakes, permission to be imperfect.” THIS. It can be so, so hard to give ourselves permission to be less than perfect (or whatever we’ve been taught “perfect” is), but it sometimes helps to think how I would feel toward a friend going through whatever I am and then extend that same grace to myself. You put it so beautifully above, and if it makes your week any easier, I give you permission to continue giving it to yourself. :)

  • meyli

    Thanks for this post. I’ve been having the same run-down, unhappy feeling for quite a while, and even though I don’t have the same past as you, this post made a lot of sense.
    Happy Thanksgiving! :-)

  • Jessica


    I’ve been a lurker on your blog for a while, and reading this, I just wanted to give you a hug and say you’re stronger than you know and things will be OK. You have come so far. But the hardest thing to do is find the grace you’ve given to other people (including all those who have hurt you), and give it to yourself.

    Comfort and peace,


  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    I loved your post and I really understand feeling like you are going to do everything and survive and feeling completely down the next morning, heck in my case it might only take a few triggers to get me on my knees but reading your post makes me feel better, it makes me feel like I have to work to get out and get better.

  • Karen

    I’m another depression survivor. It’s so easy to see ourselves as Not Good Enough. Whether it’s motherhood, profession, or whatever, we’re good at thinking about the Things We Should Do and terrible at thinking about the Things We’ve Done Well. Hang in there, and think positive thoughts about yourself whenever you can.