When I first got to the point with my depression where I could actually do things beyond struggle to exist, I never had the problem of giving too much to anything. I gave as much as I could, and I didn’t give more than that, because I couldn’t. My capacity to stretch myself, push myself, simply didn’t go that far.
I’m now much further down the road in my recovery from those darkest days, and that means that capacity is larger. Not only that, but I have more room with it than I use on a normal basis – I have the ability to push myself to the limits of my abilities and even beyond them. This is incredibly new to me and, as such, I’m getting it wrong. A lot.
So today I want to talk about why I end up giving too much, and what I’m trying to do about it.
I’m afraid of letting people down by not giving enough.
When I was at my sickest, it was impressive if I managed to complete minimal human function, like getting out of bed, eating, or getting dressed. It was hard to let people down in that state, because there wasn’t a lot of down for me to go to.
Now that I’m better, I’m at a much higher level of functioning. There’s a lot more down. So if I falter, and I do, it feels like I’ve not just failed myself but all of the people who helped me get to this point.
I’m also much more cognisant of what I’ve put the people around me through. The fact that they have stayed with me and loved me through all of it means I don’t want to do anything to risk that, or reward it with my failure.
Then of course there’s the fact that running my own business means I have the newfound capacity to let people down professionally. If I don’t manage a scheduled blog post, I’ve let all of you down. If I have a bad day and can’t really give much to my social media presence, I’ve let you down. There are so many ways I can do it.
All of this means it’s incredibly easy to overcompensate. To push and push and start giving too much out of fear of not hitting the bar.
This is one of the things I’ve found hardest to deal with. I have tried to remind myself that the bar needs to be placed realistically. Running a business is something I’m learning to do, something where I will raise the bar slowly over time, and that’s okay. I try to talk to myself like I would if it was a close friend in this situation, and point out that the only reward overextending gives is ultimately breaking you.
But it’s hard. It’s really hard. And most of the time, the majority of my stress comes from this fear.
I feel like I have to give more to prove my value.
I am so proud of and grateful for the life I have made for myself, but it’s not a traditional one. Yes, I know it’s the right life for me, for now at least, but I still find it hard to deal with the oddness of it.
Because it feels, to me – to my depression and anxiety – like I have to work even harder to prove myself. As if it’s fine for everyone in traditional employment to have days where they don’t achieve much, but I cannot. Because I have to ‘prove’ that my way of living is justified.
On top of this, I also feel a really strong obligation to make up for lost time. I’m 30, and this is the first paid job I’ve held down for any period of time. I look at the people around me, who have been working for so much longer, and I feel like I have to go at a much greater pace to catch up.
And if that wasn’t enough, depression also loves to make you think that you are worth less than other people. If you’re in an abnormal situation of any kind, that just gets even worse. Not only are you making an unhelpful comparison, but it’s an inherently skewed one.
To help deal with this, I try to remind myself periodically how far I’ve come. Going from not being able to get out of bed to being self-employed, publishing a novel, all of these things is incredible. I’m incredibly fortunate to have people around me who remind me of this too, when I can’t quite hear it from myself.
Comparison sucks, but comparing to my past self really helps me. It gives me perspective, and reminds me that it’s not a constant upward curve. It wiggles a bit, but I’m still going upwards.
I don’t yet have a good perspective on how much I can do.
This is ultimately the greatest reason I end up giving too much. This capacity to do more is still so, so new to me – and it’s not constant. What I find myself giving to things one day might be too much, and another day perfectly fine.
On top of that it’s changing each time. It’s a muscle. The more I push myself, the stronger it gets – but I can also overextend, and injure myself. But if I didn’t push at all, I would never get stronger. Finding that balance is incredibly hard, and I think the key to being compassionate to yourself in this situation is to acknowledge that.
And to do that, to exercise that muscle properly, I have to let myself fail. I have to accept that I might let people down. That I might make unhelpful comparisons.
But as long as I keep thinking about it and keep moving forward, I’m not completely failing. I’m just getting further on that path to success.
Thank you so much for reading! It means a lot to me to have a place to share these thoughts, and to know they help others. If you want to say thank you and show your support, I’ve got a guide on the ways you can do that here.