A consistent hallmark of my depression which I can’t seem to shake, is comparing myself to others. As a result, I have made myself feel like an impostor compared to people with higher degrees and even labeled myself a failure compared to those with more followers on social networks. Not only does this behavior reinforce my feelings of inferiority, it also keeps my goals unobtainable. I am constantly moving the goal post to keep myself in the comfort of feeling depressed.
Comparing myself to those who I perceive to be handling their lives and especially their mental illnesses, better than I, is definitely a form of self-inflicted torture.
As much as I hate to admit it, it makes me feel awful, even jealous, when I see stories about people who have suffered from depression at one point in their lives but no longer qualify for the diagnosis. The people who seemingly “beat it,” so to speak.
Statistics note that 1 in 4 people will live with a mental illness at some point in their lives, with 50% of American adults being likely to experience Depression. When Depression is not chemically reinforced, and that person takes good care of themselves during their low point, recovery is possible.
It’s hard to see something like that and not feel worse at the thought that this might not be the case with your own illness.
I have wanted to believe that I will be cured so many times. Shamefully, I have recklessly gotten off medication because I felt like I couldn’t possibly be someone who would suffer my whole life. I wanted to be stronger and needing medication and therapy for longer than a few sessions is not culturally perceived to be success.
As I have mentioned before, it turns out that it was the medication helping me feel strong and capable. Without it, I become a hopeless, emotionless heap of a human, unable to get out of bed. But I pushed back. I didn’t want not be part of the statistic in which people who need medication for their depression are shown to likely to need a second course. After a second course, the chances go up for being needing medication long-term. I bought into the notion that I could not be whole while on medication. Hence the jealousy. I pined for something that was never encrypted into my DNA. Never before had I considered that taking care of myself just the way I am, was the success.
That doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear those stories
People come out on the other side after suicidal attempts or disappearance from the public eye and end up being better for it. Even if some may still be secretly battling mental illness, knowing how much a ‘Hero’s Triumph’ means to the public, they only talk about it when they’re “better”. What they don’t realize is that in doing so, they help skew what success means for someone living with chronic mental illness. No doubt, it is inspiring to read these stories. When Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson talked about his past experience with depression in an interview, it was heartwarming. Same for Michael Phelps. They went on to accomplish such amazing things.
These stories might not apply to me, but it doesn’t mean they don’t help. I am happy, indeed, overjoyed that The Rock overcame his depression and has become an inspiration to so many through the work he has done since. It encourages us not to give up. It pushes us, as we imagine what we can accomplish if we just keep going. Giving up means never knowing what incredible future lies ahead.
These announcements are important reminders to not go through it alone, showing it’s ok to speak up. They’re also a great way to offer insight to those who might not understand. Dwayne emphasized that “Depression does not discriminate” between celebrities who seemingly have it all, and anyone else. It just is. At the end of the day, it is also just a disease like any other, even if that’s hard to comprehend to those who have not been through it. Him and Phelps could have been met with hesitation and mistrust, but they have been embraced with love and support.
I Do Worry That These Can Come Off As Another Push for Positivity As the Only ‘successful’ Way To Handle Depression
Those of us struggling don’t need to be misguided to believe that having a positive outlook on life will be enough to feel better. Sure, learning to see life in a better light is a wonderful part of therapy, but it only works if you’re in a mental space in which it’s possible to perceive hope. In the words of Dr. Andrew Solomon “The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality.” You can’t think your way out of chemical imbalance. There are more active steps to get yourself back to vitality. Working towards returning from the depths of depression to an enjoyable life is a huge part of true success, when it comes to long-term illness. And I don’t want news outlets to oversimplify that for a great headline.
Where To Focus Instead
What does wonders to help me feel much better, are the stories which receive less spotlight. When celebrities share how they have come up with coping mechanisms that work, and continue living fulfilling lives, no matter what’s going on in their minds. It’s the likes of Kristen Bell, Demi Lovato, Emma Stone and Chris Evans that truly excite me. But I understand, “I had a mental illness and… now I still have it but have learned to live with it” just isn’t as incredible of a headline.
Our lives are bigger than our chronic conditions. Some symptoms are even more disruptive than others, and yet people continue kicking butt, holding jobs, being great friends, supportive spouses. They might not hold the same esteem as those we’ve deemed heroes for overcoming an illness, but I wish more of them did.
Just a Reminder
That’s what I am here to remind you. It’s ok to have a chronic illness. It’s ok to wish you didn’t. It’s ok to hold out hope. And it’s ok to get down sometimes that you can’t seem to shake some emotions that others are able to get past. What isn’t ok is comparing someone else’s experience with yours and letting that be fodder to reinforce your negative perception of yourself.
I would argue that currently, I am on an upswing. I have incredibly dark days but I am past being a risk to myself and that’s huge progress for me. Is it progress compared to someone who has never felt depression? No. But why even consider that comparison? They’ve simply not one and the same.
I am currently focusing on feeling confident about my specific journey. I’ve put in too much work to succeed once, for myself, to need to succeed again, like someone else.