I assume I’m not the first person on the planet to endure crippling self-doubt. To have something crop up that altogether cripples you intellectually, makes you question every word out of your mouth, and forces you into a state of redundancy within your own life. In a word, it blows.
Two words, technically.
For the better part of the last year, I haven’t been able to write very much. Unless it’s been a piece like this, where I essentially just rant and rave for a few paragraphs, deigning to think anyone would give a fuck about what I have to say. The insanity in my head just needs to get out now and then. If I don’t take it for a walk sometimes, it pees on the rug.
I spent the end of 2013, and the first half of 2014 unemployed. I was on employment insurance, and worked my ass off to try and write film criticism and theory full time. It went well, and would have gone better were it not for my crippling fear of sending pitches, a rather essential part of the process.
I racked up a tidy sum of debt in so doing, and butchered my sanity. But I’d made great headway, and I was remarkably proud of myself for that. So was my boyfriend, a man who has supported me since literally the day we met. I honestly think he would support me no matter what insanity spews forth from my emotional geyser of a head.
Then I had an unfortunate incident with a now-former roommate. Her side of the story will undoubtedly differ, but the short and sweet of it is she wanted out of our lease two months early, without 60 days notice. I agreed, on the contingency that my boyfriend (who was already planning on moving in with me) could move in for those two months, not having to pay the deposit. Agreement was met, and about a month went by. Three months before our lease was up, she comes home saying she’s strapped for cash and we need to cancel our deal, a deal that was in place because all of us were struggling financially. Remember the crippling debt due to unemployment? Yeah, that didn’t go away. She threatened to move out three months early if we didn’t pay her, stiffing me on an entire other month’s rent. My boyfriend and I would now be financially incapable of paying our first and last months rent on a new apartment so we could start living together.
So I called her bluff. With the financial assistance of my mother, we could stay afloat in the current apartment if she did in fact decide to move home. I told her if that’s what she needs to do financially, to go for it. Then the floodgates opened. Running out into the hallway, screaming at the top of her lungs, leaving the apartment in a flurry and running to her friends, telling them I was trying to evict her. I had phone calls coming through, from her friends, ranging from how insensitive I was being, to outright calling me a stupid cunt. There’s nothing quite like being told “I’ve never trusted you. Ever. You’re honestly the dumbest, ugliest bitch I’ve ever met in my fucking life.” when you’re already just barely emotionally scraping by.
Everything was handled – meaning I lost my shit for a while, and my family and boyfriend kept me calm… ish. But the being called dumb while I was already full of self-doubt stuck like fucking superglue to a kids fingertips who didn’t think it’d really stick that bad. I couldn’t shake it.
Enter my grandmother. A woman about to celebrate her 89th birthday, she’s a tough cookie, to say the least. My Bubbie is very much a product of her generation – mother, and housewife, she’s worked a little but not very much. If I told her I was studying journalism, and got a job at the Toronto Star she’d be proud of me in an instant. In fact, that’s what she thought I was doing. When I had to explain to her that I was trying to freelance, because print is slowly dying, and places like the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, or the National Post aren’t hiring staff at the moment, and this is the only real way to do it, she just scratched her head. She couldn’t really understand what I was trying to tell her. So in her mind, I was just unemployed and wasting my time.
My older brother on the other hand, he is the bastion of hope in her eyes. Now I must preface everything I am about to say with the very simple fact that I love and respect my brother like there is nothing else in this world. I have looked up to him, wanted to be like him, and in fact followed fairly closely in his footsteps, all my life. He is a fiercely intelligent, kind, odd person who I love very much. That needs to be made crystal clear.
Derek, my brother, is in the process of acquiring his PhD in English. I don’t think I could go into the finer details for you at the moment. He’s been attending Texas A & M for this degree, and working his ass off. Not unlike me at home. Not in school. Not doing a big degree. Just trying to work through the daily grind beyond the hallowed halls of a university. A different approach with similar goals.
My grandmother understands this. She hears PhD and thinks “Success.” As a result, over the past year or so, she’s taken to acknowledging me less and less at family functions. I’ve been out to lunch with her and my mother, and had to ask my mom if I was nuts, or if she was actively cutting me out of conversation.
Due to my debt, it was suggested I get a line of credit to help consolidate my debt. I needed someones help with a good credit score. Given that my parents have mortgages, and are helping my brother with the exorbitantly expensive degree he’s getting, I had to go to my grandmother. And boy oh boy, would she not let me forget it.
I was made to feel shame for asking her to sign a piece of paper that would allow me to handle my debt. Shame in front of my parents – who stood by me the entire way. Shame in front of the woman at the bank who patiently helped us get everything organized for several months of back and forth in order to find a viable signatory. Just shame. Endless, and bleak.
And the ignoring continued. At family functions, she’d say a cursory hello, and give me a hug. She’d hug my boyfriend, Bob – a metal head with long hair whom she looks at as if he were a smudge on a crisp white shirt, a fact that makes Bob laugh, and makes me want to punch an 89 year old woman. Then she’d bask in my brother’s glow, asking him questions about the restaurant he works at – which I work at as well. Asking him about his writing. Asking him about his degree. Asking him everything. And I don’t exist. If I were out with her, without Derek, she’d only talk about him and his girlfriend, Emma. A wonderful young woman who intimidates me constantly with how brilliant she is, she’s far more approachable than my long-haired boyfriend.
And that has been the last year or so. Not constantly. I try to stay away from her now, because of how horrible she makes me feel.
But for the first time in my life, a family member, someone I actually loved and respected, looked down on me with shame. And that has stuck to me worse than being told I was a dumb bitch. It reeks like the stench of onions and garlic on your fingertips, a cling that won’t go away no matter how hard you scrub. And I can’t wash it off of me.
I doubt myself most days now. It doesn’t help going to work, and being able to talk about very similar things to my brother. But everyone hears “PhD” and all I hear for the next hour is “My god Derek is brilliant! Isn’t he brilliant, Ariel? Where’s your brother today, Ariel?”
Again, I love my brother, but being in anyone’s shadow fucking hurts.
I don’t really exist. I feel tertiary in my own life. As if no matter how hard I work, and no matter how hard I try, I’m just not good enough. My own father will frequently tell me about the opinions of other film writers with whom I frequently attend screenings, without asking my opinion on the films. He’ll ask my brother for film suggestions before me. And it’s my job.
Mr. Cellophane, shoulda been my name, indeed.
Tomorrow night we’re getting together to celebrate Bubbie’s 89th birthday. And I’ve spent the last week in an emotional tailspin, progressively crying more and more every day, feeling inadequate and anxious. Afraid of having to deal with her quiet scorn. And I just want to hide.
I’ve never felt more self-doubt in my life than I have in the last few months. And it’s making me crazy. I went through this beautiful, transformative phase when I started all this. I was strong, independent, and, I thought, intelligent. I was travelling the world. Hell, I’d been on four of seven continents by the time I was 23. I’ve written for the largest horror and genre publication in the world, and have been published on websites in three countries. I’ve done a lot. And I had the balls to recognize it.
Now I just feel castrated.
Hopefully it’s temporary.