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When Mental Illness Makes You Compare Yourself (Even More) to Everyone Else

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Comparison is one of the most natural and basic human instincts. We are constantly comparing people and places, feelings and emotions, situations and events to determine our individuality. It’s supposed to teach us about ourselves: our likes and dislikes, how we feel pleasure and what causes us pain, and what constitutes good versus what makes something bad, but it doesn’t always accomplish its goal.

When you live with mental illness, the comparisons don’t always give you constructive insight. Instead, you’re flooded with feelings of inadequacy and failure because you aren’t where you wanted to be, you aren’t the person you thought you’d become, and you aren’t accomplishing things like everyone else is. My mental illness ignores the fact I’ve had a life full of love and support from innumerable people, filled thousands of opportunities, grew up in a loving home, graduated from a well-known college straight out of a fairytale, and that I have two master’s degrees. It ignores those great things I’ve accomplished and reiterates where I am now and the fact that I’m not where I want to be. Instead, depression reminds me that my peers have had careers for years and that I can barely keep a part-time job, and anxiety tells me I’m not wanted there, and I can’t do anything right. My depression shows me how I
haven’t found anything I’m passionate about, while my anxiety is reminding me that failure isn’t an option. Depression pops in to tell me I’m not married, I don’t have kids and that I’ll never have those things because I’m unlovable, while anxiety wants to know why everyone else around me is settling down to start the next chapter of their lives but I’m not. Half of me is thinking about how I can’t disappoint anyone by failing, while half of me has decided to give up and refuses to keep going. All of me ends up exhausted, drained and defeated.

People view mental illness as a disadvantage, as a hindrance, as a halt to success. They see us as people who need sympathy, as people who can’t do things, and as people they need to treat differently and feel bad for, and I let myself fall into the shame they created. My intention isn’t to complain about the cards I’ve been dealt – I’m not trying to make myself feel better by getting pity from others. Instead, my intention is to change the narrative. I don’t want to spend another second feeling embarrassed and apologetic about who I am, feeling bad for myself and like life isn’t fair. I’m ready to embrace the things I’ve already accomplished, the things I’m going to accomplish and remind myself of all the beautiful things I have around me. I’m working to see my illness as an extraordinary addition to me, something that makes me unique, as something that has given me the chance to feel things in deep, indescribable ways that other people never will. I’m working to show myself and everyone else that I haven’t failed but that I’m just having to take a different and longer route to reach success. I’m close to reaching a place in which I can compare myself with someone else as a way to get better, not tear myself down. The battle won’t be over, and I’ll have to keep fighting for the rest of my life, but I’ll be back in charge of myself and my destiny.

When I find myself getting lost comparing other’s successes with my failures, I try to remind myself that most people don’t fight the battles I fight every single day to stay alive. And to me, that counts as success.

Getty image by taylan_ozgur.

Originally published: July 3, 2019
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