French Dictation

A character in an old book once lamented that his life seemed to be graded like a French dictation exam, while others’ lives seemed to be graded more like a history essay. The comparison stuck with me, because I remember taking those exams in French class–and because I think we all tend to do this to ourselves.

In a dictation exam, you start with full marks and points are taken off for every mistake you make. In a history essay, you start with zero and get points for everything good you write down. When applied to life, this represents two possible attitudes…and we tend to grade our own lives like the dictation and others’ like the essay.

It’s not a new idea. We tend to be hardest on ourselves; compare our bloopers to someone else’s highlight reel. We applaud and/or envy the accomplishments of people we know, while wallowing in Gazpacho syndrome around our own.

My attempts to change this are short-lived but recurring. They are easily drowned about by the critical and self-destructive voices wanting to inform me that I’ve blown it and my future is dark. But I don’t let go of the concept.

After weeks of better behavior with food, I succumbed about a week ago and have been punishing myself with overeating and lack of self-care. In true French dictation style, I give myself no credit for the weeks and for fighting so long…only the mistake matters.

I wish I could value the effort more. The truth, the truth I see if I lay aside my attitude, is that I put up one hell of a fight. I fought this episode harder than I’ve fought in a while. I bit my nails and fingers bloody over a series of nights; I asked for help and talked honestly with my husband about my insanity and the binges I was planning. I went out of my comfort zone to talk this way, and I held out for a good week longer than I usually do.

There were some things I didn’t do that I should have done to reach out for help, and I focus on those rather than all of the things I did do. To punish myself, I extend the period of overeating for days longer than it might persist if I wasn’t determined to make myself sick.

I think I’m just about done punishing myself for this particular round. I’m trying to look honestly at the pattern of this last year and think about my doctor’s advice to consider hormone therapy for my perimenopausal symptoms and PMDD…apparently, the combination of this and the bipolar undoes me for a week a month, sending hunger and cravings through the roof and derailing any progress I’ve made.

So here I am, sitting in the coffee shop looking out the window with the sharpened vision that comes with the emergence from a depressive dip. Sunlight glinting off of cars, the blue sky, a passing bird…there’s a bit of hyperreality to them, as if I just arrived on this planet and am studying my surroundings intently. It’s not the first time I have been here this way, and it won’t be the last.

Now is the time for a healing phase. Take the band-aids from my healing fingertips, drink some water to begin washing the toxins out of me, breathe again. Can I let myself be happier? Can I let it happen?

Can I, instead of punishing myself for a fall, give myself some credit for time spent standing? Can I acknowledge how hard I fought? How, even during the worst of the depression and the abuse of myself, I managed to get basic things done and help my daughter study for her tests? Can I see that, years ago, I would have spent a depressive phase like this barricaded in my room?

Can I give myself any credit for continuing to abstain from drugs? Can I acknowledge how dangerous it is not to value that accomplishment?

One response to “French Dictation

  1. Thank you for being so honest! As someone who is in recovery from addictions and other past mental health struggles, I relate to this all too well. Even though we only know each other through our blogs, I am constantly encouraged by your honesty and courage. Keep going and as someone once told me, celebrate the small victories. All the progress that you listed here – celebrate those things!

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