I truly believe that when it comes to your mental health, every success is important. They all matter.
They matter because your illness denies their existence, hides them from you, all the while ramping up the effort to destroy your self esteem. They matter because your illness will take every seeming failure and magnify it until it suffocates.
Nonetheless, albeit undetected by you, you are also succeeding. Each day you do your best. Each day you get up and face your antagonist and survive. Each day you do this, you have succeeded.
The sad part is that your illness tells you this isn’t success but failure.
It’s because your illness delights in and exploits failures, real or imagined, that it’s equally as important for you to delight in, and relish, your accomplishments. And just as your illness will take a failure and amplify it beyond the reality, so should you take those accomplishments and celebrate.
That’s why this email from a friend is so moving to me:
For the first time in more years than I’d like to admit to, I painted. Using dollar store acrylic paints and dollar store brushes, which are horrible, I made a very simple painting. It is simply a canvas divided into 12 sections and each section painted with 1 of the 12 colours I use for my visualization exercise. It truly looks very simple. However while I was working on it I had a desire to listen to music. I put on Days Like This by Van Morrison. Then found myself singing along. So all in all a very pleasant experience.
This was accomplished while my friend is struggling with a multitude of illnesses, both mental and physical. In the face of so much, a moment of joy was discovered. That moment was recognized, that moment was captured, that moment was shared and in sharing, that moment uplifted another.
Consider the many successes found in this email:
- going to the shop
- buying the supplies
- conceptualizing the painting
- listening to music
- enjoying the experience
- sharing the experience
each of which worked together to bring and spread a moment of joy. That this moment of joy was shared with me is humbling. That this moment of joy is shared with you is my celebration of it.
Just as I now take the time to celebrate my own painting.
Until very recently – and even though painting brought me joy, even though the colours were uplifting, even though the act was meditative – my paintings were hidden. Yes, I shared them on social media, but that was safe, anonymous. At home, the paintings were stacked one atop the other on some books on my bookshelf.
I did that even though I knew that the act of painting had become a key tool in maintaining my mental health. In fact, it was when I stopped painting that I recognized I was in a depressive episode and reached out for help.
Even though each painting was the best I could do, I still believed that they weren’t all that good. I believed that positive comments on social media were polite, not accurate. I allowed my own self-doubt to convince myself they were embarrassments. I denied myself the truth.
That changed when I went to a local craft shop. Unexpectedly, I found myself gravitating to the picture frame section. There, I saw some frames of the correct size that were reduced in price. So I bought a few with the thought that it wouldn’t hurt to frame some paintings. What happened next was totally unexpected. The paintings were transformed. No longer were they embarrassments to be hidden. They were personal successes to be honoured, to be celebrated, to be displayed.
I came to understand that by stacking my paintings, I had denied myself tangible proof of the successes that they were. I came to understand that sometimes it takes more than a list to realize the fact of success. The paintings themselves were the proof I needed.
And I did display them. They hang, proudly, on my walls, the only decoration that my walls have. I see them each day and I take pride in what I accomplished. Just like my friend did with a simple painting.
About John Dickson
A lifelong battle with Major Depressive Disorder resulted in a suicide attempt. That attempt taught me the danger of being silent about my personal struggles with mental health. I've had to learn to be more open about my struggle. I now choose to reach out with the hope that someone will be inspired and end his/her own silence. I'm a dad, a blogger and a new convert to the power of social media.