If it’s true that comparison will kill you, I’ve spent a significant portion of my life dying.
During an intensive outpatient group therapy session ten years ago, I remember hearing the story of a pilot who was suffocating from depression. He was a new father, he and his wife and recently bought a new home and racked up significant debt, and she now wanted to leave him because she couldn’t live with his sadness or their financial strain. He had just nearly lost his life to suicide. And, as a pilot at that time, keeping his job meant he could not take antidepressants.
His depression made sense. My heart broke for him. He’d earned his mental illness.
I went through training to become a speaker for the National Alliance on Mental Illness a couple years ago. I spent the bulk of my time wondering how I’d gotten there, though, because my story wasn’t enough. The people in my training group had truly suffered. They’d been abused; they had inner demons I could not begin to understand. They’d been through horribly traumatic experiences. Not me.
It wasn’t even that I was angry when I received my diagnoses (clinical depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder, for those of you who were curious). I wasn’t even in denial. I mean, I knew something wasn’t right inside my head. I just felt like I should have suffered more. Something terrible should have happened in my past to allow me to qualify as a mentally ill person, right?
To everyone listening who has a mental illness - you deserve comforting. You deserve to be heard. You deserve to be treated with more respect.
Me, though? I need to get over myself.
I grew up a happy kid. I have always been blessed with a lot of beautiful friends. My romantic relationships were, by and large, positive. I have a great family. But, I could have always been (and still could be) a better daughter, a better employee, a better friend, a better sister, a better student, a better partner, and a better mom. I have the capacity to be a better person. I could be better if I just tried harder and had more discipline. The thing is, I don’t think my best attempts will ever be enough. For whom? I don’t know. But someone. Someone will never see my efforts as enough.
My therapist and the people who with whom I’ve shared these thoughts always tell me I am too mean to myself. I’m asked, “Would you ever say the things that you say to yourself to your daughter? No. HELL no.
That being said, let’s get back to me. I never graduated from college. I’m obese. I can’t send a birthday card and have it arrive on time to save my life. I make promises I can’t follow through on. My house is nearly always a disorganized mess. I lie to people, saying I’ve done things that I haven’t, because I think it’s what they want to hear, and honestly, I should have done the thing I assured them I would do in the first place. It’s what I meant to do.
Confession: I lie to an app on my phone called Plant Nanny about how much water I drink everyday. I am afraid to let down an app on my phone. Further confession: I wrote this essay a month ago. I can’t even open that app now because I am convinced I’ll find some dead plant on my screen and I don’t think I can handle it.
I like to think that most folks can’t see this part of me. I’m an outgoing person. I’m a comedian. I am a passionately dedicated people-pleaser. The last thing I ever want is for anyone to waste time worrying. I don’t want to be a burden.
It’s one thing to think you’ve done bad things. You can justify guilt and personal disappointment in those situations. It’s another thing entirely to be ashamed of yourself just because you’re you.
As a former friend once told me in a letter, “There is no amount of Zoloft in the world that can fix what’s wrong with you.”
I’m slowly learning I didn’t deserve that indictment. I’m starting to accept that she was cruel when she said that. Up until fairly recently, I believed her words were justifiable - words written over sixteen years ago, mind you.
I am getting better at owning some of my accomplishments. I am trying to give myself credit. More and more frequently, I recognize when the voice in my head has launched an assault on me. It’s very hard to discern the lying, evil voice in your head when its voice is your own.
I share my struggles because I know there are others who suffer like I do, but feel like they should be smart enough to get over it. You know who you are. You think your problems should be bigger. You don’t think your hurt deserves a voice. And to you, I say this: You deserve better. Be gentle with yourself. Try your best not to feel guilty for loving yourself despite yourself.
Until this week, I had a very predictable, happy ending here - one that tied this piece up in a cute bow. I felt that’s what you, the audience, expected and deserved. But the truth is, I will likely get off this stage and think that I could have done more, and I probably just wasted your time. So, the bravest part of my evening hasn’t happened yet. It will take place as soon as I step out of the light and fight that voice inside my head. Again. I’m letting all of you know now, though, that I’m doing my best.