I read this article from Blurt the other day about the effect of judging ourselves against the success and achievements of others when living with depression. Articles by the Blurt Foundation are like hearing from that understanding friend that every person with depression needs in their life. Whether they pick you up, give you a warm supportive hug or show you that someone somewhere gets what you are going through, the articles always seem to somehow get it just right.
This one really captured the feeling for me that far too often haunts me, that feeling of missing out of the ‘normal’ success and achievements. Of feeling inadequate. Of not seeing what I achieve daily simply by not giving up.
We live up in a world where success and achievement is all important. Good exam results, promotions, owning your own home, marriage, children. Always measuring ourselves against others. Against beliefs and expectations. Against ourselves.
What damage does this do to us? When we forget about happiness or pleasure in simple things? When people are judged for not wanting to join in this pressure cooker of pushing and pushing to be bigger and better. What does it do to us when our mental health is frail, when we live within a world where the goal posts have shifted and if we don’t change our definition of success, the feeling of failure is overwhelming?
I have always been driven. Too driven. In search of perfection, of achievement. Whether or not this caused the issues I have with anxiety and depression, I don’t know. I do know that it has fed them and kept them going as I worry and dwell on my failure to meet standards that I am not even sure were ever mine in the first place. Even as I question how to view success and achievement in a way that is meaningful to me, I still judge myself by my old standards, by what I see in the world around me.
My depression takes my uncertainty and doubts about myself, amplifies them and makes it impossible to believe that I am otherwise. It speaks to me of the feeling of not being good enough, of being a disappointment. Of feeling like I do not succeed and I do not achieve. That I am failing others. That I am failing myself.
I forget that if the ‘normal’ standards of success and achievement are not how I want to live my life when my mental state is healthy, they sure as hell don’t apply when things are at their darkest and emptiest. I forget to lower the threshold. I forget that I need to celebrate the small stuff. That my achievements are things that other people take for granted.
Things that seem almost insignificant. When I get out of bed in the morning. When I manage to focus on my work for more than 20 minutes. If I don’t lose hours to reading or watching tv shows in an attempt to escape from myself and my reality. When I reach out to someone, when I laugh uncontrollably at something. If I know what to make for dinner. When I choose to talk to someone.
These are all small things.
Yet it is these that show I have not given up, that I refuse to give up. They are all things I need to celebrate.
Success and achievement are not in themselves bad. It was what we do in the search of them, how narrowly we define them, that can cause problems. We need to define for ourselves what they mean to us. Accept that things change, we change. And that sometimes we need to look for them in different ways.
After all sometimes success is ‘waking up every day, by showing up, by never giving up’.