The Mighty Logo

When Mental Illness Makes You Your Own Worst Enemy

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

I’m 5 feet, 2 inches tall. I wear a size five shoe. It’s fair to say, I’m tiny. Crawling through a doggie door or half open window would present no challenge, making a career in cat burglary an excellent option for me.

Don’t worry. Nicking pearls in the dead of night from wealthy socialites is not my plan. But I do have a plan, or rather, an intention, regarding my “so-called” measurements. Being physically small is of little importance — it’s being emotionally small that’s my hitch.

Type “A” personality can go on my “size chart,” along with shrinking, waning, withering feelings that steal my self-assurance time and time again. Maybe the cat burglar is inside me?

These negative emotions have sustained a lifelong battle with anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and depression. Somewhere, deep inside, the “real me” is hiding while mental illness plunders every corner of self-worth in the hidden caches of my soul.

During a recent therapy session, I admitted to never feeling “good enough.” Never. I’m not even sure I know what the parameters of “enough” entail. Of course, my therapist prodded me to go a deeper (an annoying but necessary professional stratagem) and I explained this life-encompassing feeling.

I’m not a good enough wife. Maybe my husband would be happier with someone else; someone smarter, prettier, less of an uptight, bitchy anxious control freak.

I’m not good enough at my job, at cooking, at writing, at sex.

I could be a better daughter, sister, friend.

The list is endless. The measuring stick reaches high, like Jack’s beanstalk disappearing into lofty clouds. But there is no golden goose egg at the unattainable “top.”

After this painful discussion, my therapist asked, “What are you measuring yourself against?”

I just sat there and blinked.

Anxious, driven, proactive perfectionism has always dominated my life. Control is a must, not an option. I over analyze, set my performance in contrast to others, take out the big, straight-edged ruler and determine where I stack up against… what? I didn’t have an answer. And then, the smoke screen lifted.

There is no “against.” I compare my so-called achievements to fraudulent ideas, bogus thoughts, unattainable paradigms that were planted in my head like Jack’s magic beans.

Except, these beans were poison, germinated during an upbringing in a home of emotional instability, cultivated by a society riddled with immense standards and fueled by my aggressive Type A ideals.

My therapist pointed out that this compulsive measuring had less to do with accomplishment and more to do with acceptance; behavior stemming from a childhood where credit had been handed out in random, contingent and inconsistent rates. Looking to be the “best” was not my true intention.

The stamp of approval — to be seen, to be heard, to be loved, to be recognized without condition — is what I was searching for all along.

The clouds parted right there on the proverbial psychotherapy couch. The measuring stick was not at all about achievement, but everything about acknowledgment and confirmation of my worth.

I needed to be high up on that stick because if I wasn’t, I was scared my valuation would deflate in the eyes of those around me. It is a debilitating affliction. If I feel it won’t be perfect, I feel I can’t begin. Possibilities and opportunities are left by the roadside because I feel I never measure up.

Just like the beanstalk is a fairytale, the measuring stick is a fictitious notion designed by my own masochistic nature of self-deprecation.

The beanstalk only got Jack the “cat burglar” into trouble and sure enough it all came crashing down. For me, the outcome will be the same: if I continue to set my gaze on the unattainable, lofty heights of “performance” rulers.

My intention is to stop climbing beanstalks and seeking golden eggs. To continue, I’m only stealing from myself. I’m defrauding every opportunity I have to just be me and let that be enough.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Unsplash photo via Larm Rmah

Originally published: November 7, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home