I often write about success and how to get it in life with a mental illness, and frankly, I’m ashamed. I know I was always shooting for a goal of being successful, and the only thing I was shooting was myself, in the foot.
I’ve spent my life trying to be a success, but what I didn’t realize was I was trying to reach someone else’s idea of what success looks like.
- When I finally got the high-paying creative management job, I thought I was a success. But what happened when I lost it?
- When I started my own business and made a ton of money, people said I was a success, but I failed because I couldn’t manage my mental health.
- When I could finally manage a few aspects of my illness, I felt I had successfully recovered to a degree, and I tried to help others. But, is telling others they should try my way of being successful helping them, and is it realistic to think that others can get the same results as I?
Honestly, for me, trying to tell people how to be successful is utter bullshit because there is no one way to measure success.
What is success?
Success is different for everyone, and it’s always changing. What you think is success one day may change the next, so it’s impossible to set goals. And really, should we spend our short lives striving for something we can never achieve?
I’ve been asking the hard questions of myself and overthinking about the answers.
I go around and around in my mind with this because I’ve been peddling the idea that a person can recover from a mental illness and be successful in their life. But whose idea of success am I trying to help people achieve?
I know it’s not a bad thing that I try to help people, but it’s misguided to think I should try to force people into a box that will never fit them. If I try to mold people into something they aren’t, am I any better than the self-help gurus and their carefully worded snake-oil manifestos?
Are any of us advocates helping by changing mentally ill people into our version of what we think normal is?
Maybe I need to take a step back.
At what point is a person considered normal? When we say we are trying to recover, how do we know when we are done trying?
How can you assign the moniker of “successful” to someone recovering from a mental illness? You can’t, and I fear I’ve been doing a disservice to all the people I was trying to help.
On what should we be focusing?
When we are talking about helping people recover from a mental illness, we should remove “successful” or “success” from our vocabulary. A person who is recovering shouldn’t worry about meeting societies standards of fame, fortune, power, or celebrity. They shouldn’t try to be “normal.”
We should instead try to get to a point where our troubling symptoms aren’t a threat to ourselves or others.
Take me, for example:
- I’m sad and anxious at times.
- I hear voices and have racing thoughts.
- I sometimes panic in stressful or social situations.
- I’m not suicidal all the time.
- I don’t physically harm myself.
Have I recovered? No, not completely. But, if you measure my symptoms today as opposed to the past, I have improved.
So is it better to help people improve instead of succeed? Yes.
How do I improve?
The first thing to ask is: what’s important to you? Decide what’s imperative for the long run and commit to getting it no matter what you have to do. You won’t put forth your best effort if the thing you are striving for isn’t what you truly want.
Remember, it’s not realistic to think you can get everything.
Look to the future
You have to realize that you still have a lot of life left. You have to plan for the future because winning in the short-term will not get you where you want.
How long will it take you to recover? Can you work for another ten years on your mental health even if it means you only improve slightly?
You can’t improve by sitting on your hands and doing nothing. Just having hope and doing nothing else will help, but won’t get you where you want to be. You have to be pushing yourself every day to do the things to get long-term wins.
Sitting around watching Netflix and hoping your depression will go away won’t get you there. You must push yourself. Pushing yourself to improve will be the hardest thing you do because when you are sick, all you want to do is shut down. You want to curl up in a blanket, but you have to push.
I realize what I’m saying won’t be popular. Everyone else tells you to go easy on yourself. They will tell you not to try too hard. “Sit back and let the medication work. Self-care means allowing your feelings to run their course.”
Not many people will tell you that you need to work hard to improve, but I am. I’ve personally talked to hundreds who never improved their whole lives because they let their illness happen to them. A few got upset when I told them they have to do something to get better. I told them they have to want to get better and they got mad. A few of them broke ties with me and badmouthed me all over social media.
Did I stop trying to help because people disagreed with me? No. I realize I’m not a doctor, but the advice I’m offering is what has helped me and many others who I’ve tried to help in the past. This advice isn’t dangerous. If it was I wouldn’t be saying it. All I’m asking is you try your hardest to do the things you need to do to improve.
I’m not saying you have to work hard physically. In fact, some of the best things you can do to help yourself are easy. Like:
Does work include reading and educating yourself on your illness? Maybe. Can you improve if you exercise every day as everyone suggests? Perhaps. Gradual improvement is different for each of us, and you have to find the magic formula for yourself.
You won’t do it by sitting on your ass wishing it will happen.
Do the hard work. Do it every day. Put your goals in your mind and think about them day and night.
Accept the short-term wins, but don’t count on them. Focus on the long-term, and you are sure to improve.
You don’t need to try to be a success or ever attempt to be “normal.”
Do your best. Don’t be anyone else.
This article also appears on Medium.