When I was in college, I was very interested in motivation culture. I’m sure most of you are familiar, but to, that meant a lot of videos, speeches and mixtapes about being your best self and going after the life you want to live. It was one of my first real attempts at improving my mental health, and the results were…mixed. I viewed depression as a battle – one I was going to win. But my excessive interest around this self-improvement and self-help content was centered around getting rid of my depression. This approach made it nearly impossible to appreciate any sort of accomplishment – big or small – and in the years since, I’ve tried to create a more balanced approach to balancing my mental health with accomplishing and working toward goals I’ve always dreamed about.
For many years, my life goals and mental health goals existed in silos. One didn’t impact the other, and it led to a poor approach to mental health that didn’t center wellness. In fact, it didn’t center anything – when you make it a life goal to ‘beat’ depression (which is a vague if not unrealistic term) I looked at life as either being one step forward or two steps back, and I viewed it solely in terms of productivity.
Every day that I was able to do things – make meals, go to class, go to work – I saw as a step forward to rid myself of depression. Any time I failed to do those things? Two steps back from beating depression. Looking back, it was an extremely unhealthy approach to wellness, and it’s easy to see why it wasn’t that effective. However, it played an important role in creating a healthier long-term approach to mental health – one that makes it easier to celebrate accomplishments.
Living with mental illness means balancing the things you do with your perception of what they are. It means knowing that cognitive distortions happen in real-time. It can mean pushing the goal posts as far as possible to make you think that you’ve never succeeded and then, when you finally do, to beat yourself up that you’ve only done it once. It can feel like a constant push-and-pull of what we do versus how we think about it – but there are ways to combat it. I hope that in my next post, I can share some of the techniques I use to balance accomplishments with mental wellness because as I said, it’s a constant battle.
I also think it’s important to note that when I think about accomplishments in this context, I don’t just mean the once-in-a-lifetime ones. For many people, waking up and getting out of bed is an accomplishment. Eating multiple meals in a day is an accomplishment. Having a day where you have a couple fewer negative thoughts than the day before is an accomplishment. But all of these positive steps are accompanied by negative instincts, and it’s healthy to find ways to deal with these instincts. The sooner we work to manage these thoughts, the easier it is to handle their impact, and build a healthier approach to how we view our accomplishments.