Disclaimer to all readers: Please don’t read this article as me casting my emotional rod into the internet ocean for compliments. This narcissistic issue starts and ends with me.
“I am stupid.” I say this to myself often throughout the day. I whisper it to myself in the bathroom at work after I ask an obvious question to my co-workers. Every day when I leave the office, I think to myself, “I am the weakest link on my team.” Hell, I would vote myself off in most team situations. I inhale the word idiot and exhale in a rush of anxiety when someone asks me for directions within the town I reside. How do I explain that I can’t remember street names that I drive on daily? When people talk about North, South, East, and West they may as well be speaking a foreign language. My family has had to deal with more directional hysterics from me than anyone should have to in a lifetime. I thank God daily for their patience.
I think my stupidity complex started in elementary school when my class began learning multiplication. My teacher created a pyramid to chart the basic 0-12 multiplication table. Well let me tell you I was no Pharaoh of THAT pyramid. My peers started to progress, but I always stayed at the bottom. I think I got through the 2’s (2×2 =4, 2×3=6, etc.) and just stopped. For months I sat in shame at the bottom of that pyramid while I watched other children receive treats for their success. It was not the rewards that I coveted, my parents were generous people, I didn’t want for much growing up. I wanted to be equal with my peers, but I was always behind.
I hated sitting in class where the whispered words “You’re stupid.” echoed throughout my mind and bounced around the walls. School was my mirror, where I had to face the part of myself I desperately loathed. In high school I graduated with a 2.0 GPA, a courtesy from teachers who desperately wanted to see me succeed. Even living through the trauma of K-12, I decided to attend community college. The decision was due to my best friend applying. I thought, “I guess college is the thing to do”.
After my first quarter at community college which felt like a flash back to the nightmare of K-12 (Pre-reqs are the worst!) I began to look forward to class. I found a passion for learning aside from the anxiety of everyone finding out just how stupid I really was. I devoured the content of each class. I knew that my work was weak so I made up for it in participation. I volunteered my ass off. If the teacher asked a question, I was the first to answer. Extra credit, I was all over it. My GPA went from a 2.0 in high school to a 3.7 upon graduation from Western Washington University.
My time at WWU was a chaotic, wonderful, crazy time in my life. I was working two jobs and completely immersed in my English literature degree. I was finding my way and learning who the “adult Rachel” was. I had my setbacks as well though. For example, I remember being in a study group for a 400 level English class. I was with two very intelligent classmates (the Sheldon and Leonard of the English world) and I told them I felt bad because I wasn’t helping much with the assignment, they were just flat out faster than me. But in good humor they joked that I provided the tea and the study space at my apartment. I cried that night, all of my old anxieties and worries rushing back at me. The echo of “I’m stupid, I’m stupid, I’m stupid” was an earthquake inside my dark bedroom. The next morning the emotional disaster that was my ego followed me onto the bus. I went to class with a residual “Stupid“.
Time reveals the magic of our past, hidden behind the black curtain of the present.
All of my life I had teachers and parents who believed in me. They were showing me their faith in a variety of ways. My 3rd grade teacher had me read one of my stories out loud to three other classes. My math teacher Mr. Sessions gave me extra assignments so I could graduate from high school. Upon graduation day he gave me a dream catcher that he made himself. My Dad paid for my first two years of college out-of-pocket, with only a 2.0 GPA from high school backing up my scholarly reputation. My Mom and step father let me live at home for four years after high school. They spent hours every week helping me with homework. None of those people would have gone to such effort if they did not see any potential in me. I will never forget how I almost fell to the floor when one of my classmates introduced me to his reading group as one of the most insightful, intelligent people in our class. That compliment was a cast for my broken confidence that was beaten down by yours truly.
I can look back now and appreciate my academic achievements; I can attribute graduating to not floating by on participation and extra credit. I looked like an idiot (often) and I survived. I hope sometime in the future I will look at this time in my life and realize that: I was good at my job. My novel was decent. I should listen to my husband when he patiently tells me that I am, in fact, an intelligent woman. Maybe one day I will realize that I am not the only driver in a constant state of lost. Tomorrow I will look in the mirror and tell myself, “You are not the stupid girl.”