Walking Up Hills To Prove I Can Climb Mountains

…the only time she told me how smart I was was when she was telling me what a failure I was.

One of the few “home over pump” gas stations left — photo by Me, March 27, 2008


“I Want To Take You Higher”; Sly & The Family Stone
Let me know if the YouTube isn’t available.



I had one of those moments during my last appointment with my psychiatrist where I was talking about Someone Else and I slowly realized I was talking about Myself.

I’ve never really finished much of what I’ve started in my life. Relationships, school, work… basically it gets to a point where I decide I’ve done just enough to prove I could have gone all the way, so I stop.

With relationships when someone says “I love you” or “lets get it on” it’s like I totally lose respect for them for having found something in me worth pursuing. Left on my own at work I’d find the extra sources for stories and get different perspectives, or fill a wheelbarrow with a couple extra shovels of dirt and really push myself to make an installation look spectacular. As soon as someone commented on how well I was doing I’d become self-conscious, take a five minute break to talk about the weather, then have half the energy when I’d get back.

When I was landscaping I’d warn the guys I worked with not to “fuck with my Zen” because once they started talking to me it was impossible for me to get that focus back.

Essentially I’ve managed to complete the first few steps of a lot of projects, then used those completed steps as enough proof of my ability to finish. If my task, for example, was to climb a mountain I’d get to the top of the first hill and plant my flag.

My book deal is another example. I signed the deal, did the research and put together a first draft which the publisher loved. Since they said that it has been very difficult for me to concentrate on finishing the project. I mean, sweet fucking Jesus, all I really have to do is copy and paste and edit a bunch of interviews into the main body and ten months later I’m an unemployed author.

Sometimes it feels like the praise and the acknowledgement is the goal, not the end product. Some chick really digs me, so I can slack off until she decides I’m too slack to be around. I got my award as a columnist so I can slack off now as a reporter because dude, I got a plaque on my wall. But not quite…

I think there are a couple of issues at play here. The first is the acknowledgement thing, but there’s the clichéd “fear of failure” thing. I think the main reason I didn’t end up at a daily newspaper is the same reason I never studied for a test in high school… I had the built-in excuse of “yeah, sure, I failed but I didn’t study”.

When I looked at a test date I never saw success, I never saw the advantages of passing… what I saw was the barrel of a gun. I was going to fail, so why try… why bother, why disappoint. But I’m not sure who I would have disappointed by succeeding.

But then again, when I did well on a project in high school, when I passed a test, it was as if it would be cool to fail the next three. So the sense of acknowledgement was fulfilled.

All of my high school and college teachers ultimately passed me, not based on any marks but on their faith that I had the abilities and talent. Certainly not because I deserved to move on…

Then there’s a certain fear of success and the responsibility which comes with… well, doing stuff.

I was definitely the most overeducated high school student in my grade, possibly in my school. With that (false) feeling of superiority there was no reason to try harder… sure Dave averaged 97% throughout high school, but if the English teacher wanted to discuss “1984” he called on me so you can stick that 97% up your ass.

Each time I correctly answered a history or geography or political science question, or got into a discussion with the teacher which left most of the students in the class gasping for air it was like I was being validated. Like I was proving a point to someone…

This is going to lapse into parody soon… or maybe just cliché, but I think the point I was trying to make was aimed at my mother. I think this is the fourth time in the last six posts I’ve written that… after hardly mentioning her at all in the past year.

We have always been close because of similarity and circumstance, but never through words and actions. We don’t hug, until relatively recently I haven’t called her mom or mother, we hardly ever say anything remotely like “I love you”… she was an award winning reporter/editor who hated to edit or read the poems and stories I’d write.

When it came to praise, the only time she told me how smart I was was when she was telling me what a failure I was. I would hand her my report card full of D’s and F’s and the yelling would start and she would eventually tell me all about the potential I had… if I only applied myself.

The person I was speaking of in my psychiatrists office was, of course, my mother. She also has a long history of projects started and not completed… but on a slightly higher level. It would take several posts to detail what my mother has done in her life, but at the same time she has spent her entire adult life Under-Employed.

She has worked on monthly or annual contracts for government agencies over most of the past fifteen years when she could have been, literally, anything she wanted. I know there’s a lot of reasons why she hasn’t pushed herself past a certain point, but when I was a kid bringing home failing grades I didn’t know any of them… at least it only occurred to me later that the problems I knew about from our past where related to the ones in the present.

At a certain point in my teenage years I think there was a certain amount… probably a great deal actually, of resentment from me towards her over what success and failure meant and how each could be used against her in the struggle of wills we were in…

Anyway… I know this current trend in posting about my mother will make my doctor happy, he reads this blog and doesn’t think I talk or write about the relationship my mom and I have nearly enough…



About Gabriel...

...diagnosed with manic depression when I was nineteen, for the next 14-years I lived without treatment or a recovery plan. I've been homeless, one time I graduated college, I've won awards for reporting on Internet privacy issues, and a weekly humour column. In 2002 I finally hit bottom and found help. It's now 2022, and I have an 8-year old son, and a 12-year old son... I’m usually about six feet tall, and I'm pretty sure I screwed up my book deal. I mostly blog at saltedlithium.com....
This entry was posted in Appointment Day, Bipolar, Bipolar Disease, Bipolar Disorder, Clinical Depression, crazy people with no pants, Depression, Health, Lithium, Living With Depression, Living With Manic Depression, Manic Depression, Psychiatry. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Walking Up Hills To Prove I Can Climb Mountains

  1. exactscience says:

    My parents pulled the same trick for twenty years of praising me by admonishing me.

    I have spent years learning how not just to climb the first hill, but to get to the top of the mountain, my approach to work was lackadaisical for so long. It only changed when I stopped trying to not to disappoint others and started trying to impress myself.

    I am making it to small mountain tops gradually higher ones will come.

  2. thordora says:

    That fucking phrase “apply yourself”….

    teach me something meaningful.

    It’s why I stopped schooling, that and my own attention issues.

  3. bine says:

    i think for me it was the other way round … my parents praised a lot. i always stuck to stuff i could do good, that came easy to me, but then when i was praised for what i had accomplished i always felt i had not earned that praise.

  4. I’m just not that bright.

  5. Gabriel... says:

    You were before… you know, before The Incident.

  6. Oooooo yeah. “Apply yourself…” made me want to shoot someone.

    A lot of this rang true. I fuck up anything I might actually be good at.

  7. Annie says:

    I only felt comfortable when i did things i liked. Probably i cudn’t take criticism. Not that i can take it now

  8. Pingback: Remembering Someone Who Encouraged Me And Influenced My Writing After He Wins Another Literary Award « …salted lithium.

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