There is something about migraine disease hitting in your more productive years as a human that is an insult to some people (starting for me when I was 20 and full-on chronic mid-20’s and going on strong into my 40’s- but certainly not always the case in others). Or maybe chronic pain itself is the insult. Because How Productive you would have been… if not for THAT.

There are times with chronic pain we are going to feel:

  • Worthless
  • A failure
  • A loser
  • Guilt
  • Shame
Title: Disabled- what a waste of your potential, smarty-pants
Image: girl with glasses and braids reading a book thoughtfully

Imposter Syndrome and Perfectionism

Due to chronic illness, I have a level of perfectionism where I have exceedingly high standards for myself that are impossible to achieve… even if I were healthy. But I have the belief that if I Were healthy I Would be able to achieve them so this has always been why I put myself in denial and push beyond my limits striving to achieve things. I think I Should be able to.

With it comes Imposter Syndrome. Because, well, I will never be able to attain that level of perfection. And therefore anything I do achieve must be a fluke, not due to anything I did, because clearly, I suck as a person due to my chronic illnesses.

One problem is that I have a high IQ. Yes, I am a SmartyMcSmarty pants. When I’m not in too much pain. And the brain fog isn’t excessive. And if I can even remember what day it is. That isn’t bragging- it actually is part of the problem. A pretty typical problem with people with high IQs is perfectionism and Imposter Syndrome related to that or other issues but one that is magnified by the limitations of my chronic illness. My IQ is 140-ish. (I do not particularly think IQ is a measure of all things intelligence but I am a very intellectually timid person so what do I know? Even stating my IQ is a hard thing for me to do without feeling squirrely about it. This might be because I always felt like a failure). It wasn’t pressure applied to me by my parents really, maybe some teachers along the way- mostly it was expectations I put on myself and this sense of knowing physically I could never keep up with my peers. I always had this sense of difference and ‘not good enough’.

It is a weird combination of chronic illness combined with this creation of extremely high expectations for myself, perfectionism but also the ‘not good enough’ feeling and my manifestation of Imposter Syndrome. All tangled together.

Typical of that IQ and higher is actually the same feeling I already have from being disabled and that is this Failure to Achieve.

many reported being plagued by a feeling that they’d failed to live up to the expectations of their youth.It didn’t matter how much they had otherwise achieved over their 80 or more years, many held onto a  creeping feeling that they could have done better. Many smart folks are haunted by the creeping shadow of potential. Have you ever heard of someone being described as “not living up to their potential?”

Zen Founder

You have this distinct feeling of knowing what you are capable of but your body is failing you in various ways. With fatigue energy levels, with pain limitations, with its inability to keep up the pace with what you want, desire and your ambitions and goals. Literally, the more I strived the more pain I was in. I could achieve things but the pain consequences were extreme and simply can’t be ignored forever. And no matter what I achieved I diminished in value because of this. And you know it isn’t sustainable. If it required so much pain and energy to do anything for any length of time- you know eventually it isn’t going to hold. And it isn’t. You burn out. You get severe depression. You crash and burn hard. And then, I would just repeat the whole damn cycle. You will never achieve your goals and ambitions long-term.

I think this applies to so many of us any skill we have. Any education we have. Any profession we learned. And trade we are in. But then we get sick and we can’t manifest that identity anymore. We get internal and external pressure to just sort of push through it. And that doesn’t work for long. Those out there like me feel like we are personally a failure when that doesn’t work. We feel guilt and shame for something completely out of our control. So when people say things like it is ‘such a shame’ that we can no longer do ‘such and such’ it magnifies this sense that we are not ‘enough’ and we are a complete failure as a person.

People always point out what a shame…

But that isn’t the case because other people promote this idea that it is Such a Pity that you are so Intelligent and Unable to be Productive. I have had this repeatedly over the decades. I don’t think they understand how that makes me feel. That they compliment my intelligence, how articulate I am, how knowledgable, or how educated… but what a waste it is that all that is ruined by chronic pain. That it makes me feel like a damned loser. Like I am failing at life. At my Potential.

I know this can be applied to any trait, any skill, any profession or trade we have. Because people just do not like to see people become unproductive. They are either compelled to make us productive or they express pity at our loss of productivity. All because everyone sees self-identity wrapped up in what we Do.

But for me, it confirmed what I already felt and knew inside myself – that I was such a failure. First, I don’t take compliments well. I don’t entirely believe anything people say to me that is a compliment. Part of having Imposter Syndrome for me is not quite believing I am that smart. Not really believing anything I accomplish is really great or anything to do with skill… maybe luck. So that’s an issue I have been working on. But I do believe the part that says I am a waste of space for not living up to my potential as a human being– of course, That was always my takeaway.

It is verifying those unrealistic high expectations I put on myself and that feeling I am not living up to my potential (Or the potential life I could have had without chronic illness. Maybe. In some alternate reality?). It is saying, hey, yeah, other people also notice that I could have done such and such… but Sadly, I just suck instead. And I feel horrible when people say things like that. It makes me do the whole ‘What if‘ I were not chronically ill thing none of us should be doing. It makes it so very hard to accept ‘What Is‘ my life.

What ifs

But the fact remains we just love to do these ‘What Ifs‘. If I were healthy… my life would have been like____. And IQ doesn’t factor into feeling guilty we are disabled because we are no longer productive enough or we have become financially unstable, which affects our family. It is just the extra flavour to my perfectionism and denial and one I get feedback on from the outside world- the flavour of stigma I get. But stigma, well, that comes in all sorts of flavours that we then internalize- this is just one. One that always bothered me from childhood onward because it fed that feeling of failure I had.

Hello denial

What then happens to me is a massive case of Denial. I think, well, maybe I can have a career. Maybe I can have ambition. Maybe I can have a fraction of what I want. I make myself believe that. I go forth and push through the pain all over again… and rapidly suffer the consequences of that with more pain and no effective management of it which leads to mental and emotional suffering. Then burnout. And it is not a fun process. The point is, the whole denial process is like bashing my head against a brick wall over and over again. I never get anywhere and I just hurt myself. But I have an overwhelming need to repeat the process because of my insane expectations.

If you become disabled, even then… what a shame

I can’t even be disabled without someone pointing out that it is such a shame given my clear potential and intelligence. Seriously!!??

The main problem with people doing this is that it seriously encourages denial in me. But it also sometimes gives me a little bit too much hope. I think to myself, maybe this treatment will be pretty effective and if it is then I can do such and such training or education and have such and such ambitions and an actual career.

And then that treatment doesn’t work. So I can’t do any of those things. And I have to accept all my limitations all over again. Which happened recently with my vestibular rehabilitation therapy. Before I started VRT they made it sound like it would be 100% effective but when I was doing it they lowered that down. And so I had a result that was positive but not to the extent I would have needed to function doing work, even work-from-home. But at least I could walk around without looking drunk or falling over. I was happy about the positive progress but it was way less than I expected.

But I got this idea that if I could just get it good enough I could work from home. In a different field, sure, but something I would enjoy. If I could just get the dizziness/vertigo under control. Because I could, hopefully, manage the pain enough in a home environment… in theory. So I had hope. My vestibular therapist kept complimenting my intelligence and encouraging ideas of furthering career goals in the future. And it really did encourage me. It doesn’t take much to flare denial in me. I yearn to resolve my financial instability. I yearn to have a career. So, yeah, it doesn’t take much at all for someone to make me hope way, way too much. And hope to want more than my body will allow.

I want to say, there was nothing wrong with what she said. There is nothing wrong with complimenting someone’s intelligence (Or any trait or skill you see in them. Complimenting people is always a good thing. Not such a good thing with my history. My perfectionism, Imposter Syndrome and feeling like a failure. Instantly it triggers the desire to Do More so I can be Of Worth. And that never goes well.

But now that VRT is done I am rapidly reverting to my previous state suggesting my brain didn’t adjust at all with the rehabilitation. And that I need to do those physio exercises every single day just to get those half-assed results I had. And… so hope is deflated pretty fast. That is upsetting because I shouldn’t have had that much optimism and hope to begin with. I should have had realistic expectations and then I wouldn’t feel so cruddy about it now. I am all for potential future options but not in unrealistic expectations short term. Sometimes you have to understand with complex medical cases changes to my brain take a whole lot more time and maybe never… I have to accept my life, as it is now, in order to have any contentment in my existence. Yeah, if things change and I can improve, then I will slowly stretch and nudge my limits.

And yeah, again, trying not to feel like my life is a Waste of Potential. I don’t like it when people point out my intelligence and potential (either in pity or what I should aim to do)… and then when the treatment fails I, of course, feel like a waste of space. That is the logical assumption one would make there. I don’t want to feel that way. It’s not cool. I don’t want to get excited about the possibility of going back to work, financial stability and then crashing when I realize that was just unrealistic. It isn’t a nice feeling. I also don’t want to feel like a failure as a person- she didn’t make me feel that way, of course, it is just what happens when someone reminds me of my ‘potential’ and then it gets deflated when I realize, once again, I can’t live up to it ever. Like, ah, once again I suck at life. Awesome.

What I know. And have to remind myself all over again.

  • That I know this life I have and being disabled is a life that has worth. And no one should suggest otherwise.
  • That the things I can do still have value even though they are not productive to society in the classical capitalistic sense. This obsession we have with work-life leads to a real inbalance in our lives.
  • That productivity is not the measure of my value or my life.
  • That intelligence is not the only trait I have with value. I have a lot of traits I value in myself. Creativity is one of them. My sense of humour is awesome.
  • That my intelligence, while just a fraction of who I am, is also not a trait measured in how productive I am in the workforce: as in it has no value at all if I am disabled because that simply is not true. (Quite frankly, with all the pain and brain fog I am not entirely sure I manifest that intelliegnce all that well in the world- thus the name of my blog). I value intelligence because of its overall personality trait of ‘Openness’- Now that is a part of my personality I value, as in it makes me a very curious person. One that wants to constantly learn, develop new ideas, grow and evolve. That is what I really value in myself. And that has nothing to do with work, making money and productivity. It has to do with how I am as a person and how I live my life.

This is the same for us all when they point out how ‘unfortunate’ it is we can’t do our skilled work, our trade, our profession or we ‘wasted’ our education or it is such a ‘shame’ we are chronically ill at such a young age… whatever the theme it takes. It is all about how it is such a pity we can’t be productive in the way society wants. But that isn’t all of our value. We are much more than what we do for a living. Our self-identity is far broader than that.

I have to remind myself of my own limiting beliefs. One of which is the fear of ‘not being good enough’ (Chronic illness: 2 common limiting beliefs). I wrote a post called Achiever Fever and it applies to a lot of us like me who go into denial over and over by trying to push through our illnesses to achieve our goals. No matter the reason behind our denial and desire to succeed it typically smacks back into us with worsening health issues. Chronic illness just doesn’t like to be ignored like that- and ‘pushing through’ is basically doing just that.

I don’t want to fool myself. I don’t want to fall into denial and have this insane desire to push myself way beyond my limits because I think that will make me of value and worth, and ‘enough’. I put all these high expectations on myself, that is the horrible thing. But other people didn’t help any with it. They certainly helped me feel like a failure and I really didn’t need help with that… I had that Down. I am my worst enemy when it comes to things like this.

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11 thoughts on “Disabled: what a waste of your Potential, Smarty-Pants

    1. Yes, this is exactly it! Like all we are is our potential and skills… we have no worth and value outside of that. That isn’t to say we wouldn’t love to do those things but we are quite aware we can’t. And at least we know there is more value to a person than what they do for work

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Wow, this is a lot. I have to say that your limiting belief is not a fear (which is a feeling), but the thought beneath the fear, which is “I’m not good enough.” Thoughts run beneath the surface and cause the feelings. Nikki, I see myself in your writing often. I became disabled at age 60 and still I see your words as my own. I am very impressed with your work Nikki. You put a lot of thought and effort into your blogging and the thing I love the most is that you add the research because you are OPEN to new ways of thinking. I follow you because you do all of the work that I would otherwise need to do on Fibro’s latest research.
    I often think that I can do more and get frustrated with my puny efforts, and this is how I break that thinking process: Dolphins exist for their own purposes, they do not serve humans, nor do they produce anything, they are beautiful creatures with their own intrinsic value and no amount of humanity will change the value of this fantastic species. All creatures have their own value. Just to stand in the sun the weed absorbs life. It does not matter what humans think of weeds, they simply are.
    I can sit on the couch, with my high IQ for the rest of my life, and still my value is intrinsic and not to be measured by others (or even myself).
    I am sending you love and support Nikki.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yes, I have been plagued by the ‘I’m not enough’ for all my life. It has taken me a very long time to value other things I can do in this life that have nothing to do with ‘productive to society’- including blogging. But it is something I have to work on because it rears up again and again when someone suggests what more I could/should be doing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can totally relate to the intelligence and not living up to my potential. I have co-occurring disorders which add insult to injury. A smart, alcoholic (7 years recovery), bipolar mom. Talk about stigma. Oh and I’ll add to a biracial child!! By the looks of it, I helped screw myself on top of drawing the short stick. Never mind who I am as a person because I am all the above. I used to believe those lies. After 43 years I finally decided to eff those lies. I am worthy and deserving despite my challenges. I have lived a life I am told is legendary. I love deeply. I am grateful for my failures as same as my triumphs. I am over people’s opinions. Even the ones I had about myself. I am a human living my experience and if someone doesn’t like it, they can walk away. We are not the projection. We are fallible human beings. So forgive yourself and live life how you are capable of living it. And do so with pride, that pisses ‘em off. ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I almost didn’t write a post about it but it is just that every time it happens it stirs everything back up for me all over again. So I thought I can’t be the only one going through that sort of process.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It always bothers me when people point out other people’s ‘potential’. It’s remarkable how society doesn’t view that as an insult, but rather motivation. Telling someone they have so much potential is a roundabout way of telling them they’re a failure!


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