As the year comes to a close, it is only natural to look back at the past in order to determine future steps. To be honest, I struggled immensely with the idea of continuing to post on this blog over the past few months. I experienced the longest peaceful spell I’ve had since these struggles came to a head back in January – something like two whole months without any large issues with depression and anxiety. I feared that coming back to the words I wrote in this blog would make me realize that I had not improved as an individual despite everything I have tried. However, if there’s anything I learned from my practice with CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), it is that one should never take their thoughts by face value. The ability to challenge one’s own cognitions is important for maintained mental health.
I thought about different ways I could potentially challenge this cognition. “I could revisit some of my older journal entries when I was really struggling,” I thought. Older journal entries could serve as a benchmark. However, this would not have provided an adequate challenge because I would be comparing words from a version of me that was deep within her own mental labyrinth to my current version of me – who feels pretty damn good. Thus, I needed to find a remnant of my past where I was feeling more or less okay. When I was expressing my cognitions of the world without the powerful and uncontrollable thoughts that sometimes plague my mind as a result of mental illness.
So then I found it – a poem that I wrote in December 2016. My poems have never been highly structured. But they’ve always been a raw expression of myself at the time of writing.
Photo by Eepeng Cheong
A Third-Year’s Soul
I walk home from a late night meeting
Wondering where the hours had gone
Bickering over whether to use the word ‘better’ or ‘superior’
I thought I was at my wit’s end
I recount my days, and myself right now
And my life was dictated only by recognition
When hours flew by, memorizing details
With only the scent of toil to leave any trace
There were no roses to smell.
Because yes, I’d get that 90, and probably higher
But in the end I was left wanting nothing more
Than to be like that other kid next door
Who dreamed of his own kind of success
A success that sprouted only from his own growth
A spirit that never faltered to any of my inner demons
Perfectionism, the trap of society
It chained me from my soul out toward what only seems
Like a curse.
I can spend hours trying
To attain my impossible ideals
Not even getting close
A standard that only seems to increase exponentially
The gripping fear of taking on new ventures
Afraid of society finding out who I am
Not wanting to admit the truth to all around me
Perfectionism is not all terrible, of course
It means that I am constantly searching to better myself
But it also is quite damaging
When I can never be sated
I can dream it from a mountain peak
Being able to denounce this restrictive attitude
With all of society to hear, and finally listen to
The laments of a third-year
Who just wants to try without fear.
The human condition, it prevents full happiness
But who can define happiness but the one who receives it?
The one who accepts it
The one who identifies with it
When can success be defined simply as growth?
Do we not all grow from every single day?
Why are standardized tests supposed to define one’s success
When human potential cannot be measured quantitatively
Like your height or the height of Mt. Everest.
Yes, Mt. Everest has a discrete height
We can measure this using manmade measurements
But when the hell did we ever start measuring human ability
Through numbers and letters as if they mattered
Are we not the opposite of Mt. Everest, in fact?
We are like the ocean
Can we really be completely sure of its depth?
We can measure all we want, but we can never capture
The enigma that is humanity.
I am not one to hyperbolize and parallel humans to the universe
As the universe is something we perceive to be endless
But one human’s life, yours or perhaps mine
Is limited by time
This is not meant to demotivate… on the contrary
It reminds me that I need to change my mindset now
To adopt an approach to life that appreciates my limits
And attempts to soar in different ways regardless
“This is my ultimate dream,” I say.
“What is yours?”
Self-improvement is not a straight path
Some may criticize me at this point, saying that despite these earnest thoughts back in December 2016, I still ended up hospitalized three times in one year for suicidal ideation. That I ‘failed’ to take my own advice. But I have not failed at all. If anything, this year has been the most successful year of my life. In a way, I have had to struggle deeply in order to fully see the value in changing my mindset. I know that this is the reality for many people as well. It is one thing to read a self-improvement article or book and think to oneself, “wow, this really resonates with me,” and another thing altogether to practice the suggested actions. I do not believe you see tenacity through powering through full throttle trying as much as possible to avoid failure. Tenacity is displayed when you can get up after falling, and do so repeatedly without giving up on your goals.
Instead of considering how many times I’ve been hospitalized or how many times my negative, spiralling thoughts overcame me, I want to consider how many times I’ve risen above these periods. I think this speaks volumes against my earlier cognition about fearing that I have not improved as an individual. The former is a perfectionistic thought, while the latter is what I call an imperfectionistic thought. If you’ve been following my blog, I hope you can see the difference. A perfectionistic thought focuses on the results you could not achieve, or the gaps in your achievement. An imperfectionistic thought celebrates the process, with all its ugly pitfalls, traps, and unexpected dead ends as well as how you choose to deal with them.
For those of you who struggle with similar mental health issues, I invite you to try to shift your thoughts in this imperfectionistic direction. Sometimes when you are feeling extremely down, all you can really do is weather the storm. But please try to remember all those times you were successful in weathering the storm, and let this be a source of hope for you. Mind the language you use to describe your own life events as well. When you are trying to overcome, for example, a depressive episode, you are not ‘letting it pass’, or ‘waiting until things get better’. I say you are ’weathering the storm’ because it gives you a rightfully active role. The phrase suggests that you are resisting the gusts of wind, the sharp hail, the heavy rainfall with everything you can. It suggests that there will be an end to the storm. Even if it is not overtly apparent, your mind works its metaphorical ‘weathering the storm’ muscles when you need them. And once the storm passes, your mind can then work through what happened. In the end, you are getting stronger no matter what. You are growing. Self-improvement is not a straight path. If it were, then what would be the difference between a robot and a human being?
Always remember to BKTY (be kind to yourself), & happy holidays to you all,