The Self-Esteem Conundrum and the Stumbler , or- what came first – the chicken or the egg?


There are people you meet who strike you immediately between the eyes with their presence.   They speak with a knowing authority that makes you believe that they hold the key to the universe in their pockets.  Some of them have been this way their entire lives, others have earned their personas through years of life experiences.   For better or for worse, I can’t tell the difference between the two, but everyone knows what I am by about the 5-minute mark of our conversation.  I am a Stumbler.

To quote the New York Times article – “The Moral Bucket List” (David Brooks), the Stumbler “does not really live for happiness as it is conventionally defined.  She sees life as a moral drama and feels fulfilled only when she is enmeshed in a struggle on behalf of some ideal.”    It sounds very “Glitter and be Gay”  but in reality, because I so identify with this definition, I believe that the Stumbler has a fundamental lack of self esteem.   That is – if I am, in fact, a Stumbler.  Let’s examine the facts.

I was painfully shy as a child.  I would go to any length to avoid talking to anyone I didn’t know.  Adults, other kids, whatever.  The only exception was when I was singing.  I would sing for anyone – in my own home, provided that I could….zip!!….disappear when I was done.  In school, my shyness was inaccurately interpreted as  being “stuck up” by the others.    I could never bust through my wall to dispel the myth.  Kids being kids, they weren’t about to cut me any slack, either, and by the 8th grade, it was just easier to live up to my faux reputation and transform it into reality.   At least my new-found attitude felt better, made me feel better about myself.  The attitude made it easier for me to speak out.  It didn’t do anything for my popularity, though, or my skill set as a friend.   I fantasized about my parents announcing that we were moving to another school district.  Fresh start. Fresh approach.  Wall tumbled down…. maybe?   I would never know.  We never moved.  Begin my transformation into a Stumbler.

It’s tough to be friends with a Stumbler.  In the mind of the Stumbler, most every conversation is an opportunity to grandstand about the issue of the moment.  I have a tendency to get carried away.  Next thing I know, I’m talking a mile a minute, and my companion is left glass-eyed and dazed.  As I’ve matured, my success rate at reigning myself in has risen.  I thought I was on a roll, self-esteem on the rise, good things happening now and on the horizon.  Then…..bang.  What do you suppose is the worst thing that could possibly be foisted upon the Stumbler?   Menopause.

Mixing fluctuating hormones and soapbox is like mixing bleach and ammonia. Deadly.  Poison for relationships.   I finally achieved what I believe to be out of body experiences.   They consisted of me going nuts over some perceived slight while my companions cowered or ran away (mentally, emotionally, physically, you name it).  What they didn’t know was that the person inside was clawing and scratching to get out and smack myself across the face, except that the person inside was still fundamentally the shy child.  Even if I had clawed myself out from that monster, I wouldn’t have known what to do once I reached the sunlight.

Enter hormone therapy – otherwise known as “the patch”.  I had pulled myself back from the abyss.   Or so I thought.  Do I get a fresh start?  Do any of us as mature adults get a fresh start?  I know that if I am diligent with my hormone therapy, I will be able to control my extreme tendencies.  I have also discovered that if I become “medically noncompliant”, I will be able to feel myself teetering on the edge of  hormonal hysteria in fairly short order.  Scary.

In the here and now, I am riddled with doubt.  I spent years trying to understand myself and gain some sort of perspective.  I thought that I had reached the point where I was able to be a good friend, wife, mother, to really connect with people.  I thought I had undergone an epiphany, that I was seeing humankind with new eyes.  In a matter of months, it was undone.  Don’t get me wrong… I am not blaming “lady problems” for my personality flaws.   I just don’t know if people are over the “evil” me from last year.    And like all human beings, I get angry about things.  But this anger is not like hormonal anger……   Will there forever be a wall of defense between me and those I love?

According to “The Moral Bucket List”,  The Stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be.  There is hope for me, I guess.  Life is about not standing still, about constantly moving forward striving for better, or more likely, betterment.   Whatever I was today will become the past tomorrow.   Every new day is a chance to allow that shy girl to blossom.  Medical compliance will go a long way towards coaxing her out in a healthy, non-confrontational way.   I have something to prove.  Can I prove it – to myself, or to those closest to me?  Time will tell.

“At moments of rare joy, career ambitions pause, the ego rests, the Stumbler looks out at a picnic or dinner or a valley and is overwhelmed by a feeling of limitless gratitude, and an acceptance of the fact that life has treated her much better than she deserves.”


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