I have never considered myself a very successful person.
This is rubbish, of course. I have had many, many successes in my life – including before these past few years. I know this logically. But this knowledge has never quite translated.
I have always found, and this may be an anxious person’s experience or it may simply be Life, that there is a difference between knowing and believing.
I know I’m not a terrible person; I believe that I am. That is what my depression gives me. I know I have friends and people who love me; I believe that I am hated. That is what my anxiety gives me. I suspect that I am not alone in experiencing this dichotomy, no matter how much my depression tries to convince me I am.
What I want to talk about today is not so much the time where you are at rock bottom, and those beliefs are all that you can comprehend. I want to talk about that point where, thanks to time or therapy or help or medication, you’re doing a lot better. Things are going well. Things are improving. You have bad moments, but generally, everything’s getting pretty good.
But those beliefs are still here.
Because when you are in that space, where you are so very far from where you were but still have a long way to go, something strange happens. Success becomes a lot harder to deal with.
When I was very depressed, if someone complimented me, it didn’t go in. It bounced off the fortress that was my mind, and it became very quickly irrelevant. Essentially, I ignored compliments – or success, or generosity, or other kindnesses. They were not part of my sphere of experience.
These days, that is no longer the case. I am much better, and so, these gifts do not bounce off. There is still a wall in my mind, but it is no longer impenetrable. Things can get in, through, permeate my thoughts and beliefs and feelings. Which means when good things happen, they impact my brain. And oh, boy, is that a fun time.
Here’s the thing. I love compliments, and gifts, and people being generous in all manner of ways. The fact that people, even during the lowest points of my life, relentlessly showed me these kindnesses is responsible in no small part for my recovery.
But now I can take them in, they overwhelm me. You see, I spent ten years not handling them. I don’t know how to handle them. I might have done when I was much younger, but somewhere in the years that I lost to my mental health, I forgot. To me, ‘good things’ happening are like being put in the driver’s seat of a car. I have a vague knowledge of what to do, but the idea of doing it seems impossible.
This is, of course, not to say that I don’t like good things, or that I don’t want them. Obviously! But that’s the point, isn’t it – I should want good things, and that should mean they are fine, it should mean that they fill me with joy and happiness and only joy and happiness. Right?
I hate the world ‘should’. More often than not, it is just the knife I use to stab myself with.
Over the past years I have had this mantra that I have tried, very hard, to tell myself just as I tell it to others: every feeling is valid. If you are feeling sad, it doesn’t matter why. That feeling exists and it is valid. The same goes for anger. Hope. Despair. Loneliness. Love. Reasons can be invalid, but feelings can’t. If you’re feeling them, they’re there, and real.
So I know logically that it’s fine to be overwhelmed by good things happening – I just don’t believe it. Yet. The more ‘good things’ happen, the less I am overwhelmed by them. There’s my other mantra, which you’ve heard before: mental health is a set of muscles you have to practice to keep strong. If I keep experiencing good things, I will eventually learn how to handle them.
I’m just…not quite there yet.
This week, a large number of good things happened in very quick succession. I streamed my guild’s mythic progress raid for the first time, and at one point I had seven times as many viewers as I normally have (that would be seven, being seven times more than one).
Immediately after ending that stream, I received an email from the lovely people at Nanowrimo – my blog post with them, which is the secret exciting thing I was asked to do in December, had been published. It had over 50 likes and shares before I had even seen it. Views of this blog quadrupled, even moreso given that it was not a day where I had published anything.
The day after that, a wonderful friend of mine supported me on Patreon – for what to me is a terrifying sum of money – and single-handedly made me hit my first stretch goal. I lost words. I didn’t know how to explain what it meant. How to say that the fact that anyone supports me at all is overwhelming, let alone when it involves money, which I am so very afraid of.
As a result, the past couple of days I have felt hugely tired. Like, as Bilbo Baggins would say, butter scraped over too much bread. But that isn’t the only emotion – I feel seen, loved, excited, determined. There is a whole gamut of emotions being run in my chest right now and trying to process them is – well. Not easy.
And it isn’t just these few events, too. What I find tends to happen when I receive good things is that there is a cascade effect. I spent so much of yesterday overwhelmed not just by this one new patron, but by the fact that anyone supports me on Patreon at all. When the Nanowrimo blog happened, I kept remembering sitting here the day that Erika Ishii and Geek & Sundry shared my article on Sagas of Sundry: Madness, refreshing my blog stats, unable to take it in.
All feelings are valid.
I feel awful, sometimes, for not knowing how to appreciate these things. I worry that I don’t appreciate them enough, because I react to them this way. But it’s valid. It’s a muscle. People, including me, are complex. We contain multitudes, and that means that sometimes those things will be contradictory. Illogical. But they’re still true. And that needs saying more.
You see, the other thing I have always felt about myself was that I was, am, too complex. Too unlike the ‘normal’ people I saw around me. That no one wanted to hear, or could relate to, the trial of being contradictory. But I wanted and needed desperately to tell people about those feelings, those contradictions, those complexities.
And I am starting to believe that I was wrong. That the thing that I know to be true – that everyone is complex, and that I am not alone – really is. That belief, nascent as it is, is the drive behind my desire to be candid and honest with you about my experience of this journey. It is precious and fragile, and I will hand it to you as if it is made of glass blown so thinly that a single tap might shatter it.
But I’ll still hand it to you.
We made our first Patreon target, and that means from next week there will be not two but THREE blog posts a week! These will go out on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.