Why Mental Illness Makes It Easy to Measure My Self-Worth in Numbers

I’ve spent years trying to quantify my life experiences. When I was confused and hurting, I turned to numbers for comfort. Numbers have always made me feel safe. They have made sense to me. For a while there, numbers kept me feeling safe and in control. At a certain point though, they starting hurting, not helping.

I think it’s normal to want to measure your self-worth with something. It can be so hard, because when you are confused, hurting and you just feel like you need validation — and you think you know what a “good” number is — it can be easy to convince yourself once you get to that number, you’ll be worth something. Whether this is the number on a scale, your GPA, the number of miles you were able to run last week or the number of extracurricular activities you are doing. Speaking from personal experience, none of these things will actually bring me happiness, even if I feel like they will.

The biggest thing I have been trying to teach myself lately is to abandon my love affair with numbers. Isn’t it more important to try the best I can at my assignments and recognize that’s all I can ask of myself? I’m trying not to let a drop in my GPA scare me or hurt me. I’m trying to realize if I go up a size in jeans, I’ll be OK. Because that number doesn’t define who I am. Nothing defines me except the way I treat people and how I respect myself.

The thing is, it’s not easy to make these changes in life. It’s not easy to change thought patterns or the way we measure self-worth. I hope we can all start noticing negative thoughts when they arise, recognizing that challenging these thoughts is the first step to becoming more comfortable with ourselves. I encourage us to ask ourselves why a certain number — be it a size, a GPA or anything else under the sun — is so important. Let’s ask ourselves what will really happen if we don’t attain this number. And remember, only we can define ourselves.

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Thinkstock photo via Pavels Sabelnikovs.

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