I like this image. It reminds me that when it comes to success, I am a bat among birds. I have to do things differently and am a totally different species. New studies have shown that there are close to 18,000 species of birds. Meanwhile, there are a lot of species of bats and they are the second largest order of mammals, but there are still only 1,240 species of bat.
I look around and I see a lot of people with mental illness. So many sometimes that it feels like the statistics can’t be true that only 18.5% of the U.S. population struggles with mental health issues. It has to be everyone, right?
In my line of work, people come to me all the time and disclose their struggles. So my reality is a little different than most. It can seem as if everyone on Earth has a mental illness. The truth is, while many suffer from environmental stressors, not everyone has a mental illness or serious disorder.
Plus, technology is making us progressivly more anxious and depressed, as well as isolating us instead of connecting us. These things have a higher cost than we first thought or expected, but it still doesn’t ruin everyone’s clean bill of mental health.
So when I look at people that I perceive to be healthy, which is an important distinction –I don’t appear to be ill and I am–, I have a hard time not beating myself up about their successes.
It’s getting worse the older I get. I see and hear about people younger than me getting these huge breaks or succeeding in an area that I’ve been chipping away at for years and it hurts. Just the other day my mother told me about a girl getting a pretty serious door opened for her by a simple right-place-at-the-right time moment. I wanted so badly to be happy fo her, but all I could see was how all my training and experience still couldn’t open the same door.
When you have a mental illness it feels like you’re expected to run a race with weighted shoes. You see people fly past you, every once in a while you come alongside someone else with the same weighted shoes and you nod to one another. Or worse, you see someone else with weighted shoes go past you at a little bit faster speed than you are going.
It is easy to gloss over your own success because it looks so trivial. They don’t pass out awards for making it out of bed, showering, or cooking a meal. Even though each small thing is something huge for you, it can feel as if they don’t add up to anything great. You have to work so hard for progress that seems to never come. Things take you longer like simple chores or completing a To-Do list.
Watching other people succeed can be hard. Then you beat yourself up for feeling bad for yourself instead of happy for them. It can turn into a pretty nasty cycle. This is where thinking of myself as a bat instead of a bird comes in to save the day. I can’t compare myself to anyone else.
Each day presents its own challenges for me. Some days I win, some days I lose, but it’s not a race anyone is running but me. I am the only qualifier who can participate. The only standards that exist are the ones to which I hold myself. Success isn’t linear. Success does not have a measureable outcome. I’ve seen all different kinds of definitions for success. Most people can look to the birds around them and find inspiration or support that applies and makes sense. But when you aren’t a bird, those same measures or inspirations just aren’t applicable. When you aren’t healthy, you can’t possibly expect yourself to be able to do things like a healthy person. Yet, most of us try. That is the failure on our part, we can’t hold ourselves to the same expectations. We can’t think of the same things as markers of success.
Ultimately, for me success means that I can be happy for others, that I can say I loved fiercely, that I can be proud of my character, and that I can never say that I didn’t try.
Each day that I try to work towards my goals is a day that I succeed.
Remembering that is difficult and evasive. It can feel like trying to hold smoke in my hands. Yet, still it remains true.