Asa woman who has struggled most of her life with mental health issues —issues that were undiagnosed until recently, that have impacted many aspects of my life — I just want to say: I’m sick and tired of people who go around moralizing that “everyone has choices in life that can either lead to our success or failure.”
Or that famous old saying us “older people” may have heard a lot in our younger years: “Pull yourselves up by your own bootstraps.”
I’ve often noted that some people have difficulty pulling up said bootstraps because they don’t even have boots, i.e., the tools, focus, motivation needed to “get ahead” seems to be lacking in some people for whatever reason.
I’m speaking as one of those people who don’t have bootstraps.
I prefer bare feet or, at the least, cute sandals.
These people who lecture “non-successful persons” (or people whose lives don’t appear to others as being very functional and are perhaps nonconforming to “mainstream culture or society for whatever reason) are often those who have managed, usually through their hard work and perseverance, to achieve some measure of what our society deems “success” — that is, lots of money. Some even in the face of some great adversity, like loss, abuse, neglect, growing up in extreme poverty, mental health challenges, etc. I say, good for you all.
Although I would like to point out that, for whatever reason, some people do not rise out of (whatever adversity) to “great heights” and that’s ok. We all can do what we can with what we are given, and yes, a lot of outcomes in life are due to our choices.
But not ALL of them.
Unfortunately, there are things we do not choose that end up hampering some people’s lives, in some cases severely upsetting their lives.
One example is cancer, which seems so common as we all know people who have had it and are either dead or still around (“survivors”).
I have it, and a great number of relatives and a few friends have had it. I’m pretty sure none of us actively chose to get cancer, it was one of those things seemingly out of our control (and yea, I am aware of all the things that allegedly are cancer-causing and for various reasons I couldn’t avoid, such as farm chemicals, chemicals in drinking water, in our plastics, in the air we breathe, etc.).
Similarly, as with cancer, people don’t “choose” mental health issues and disorders.
We did not wake up one day and decide we were going to be depressed or bipolar. Shit happens beyond our control and we deal with it. Some people deal well, others not-so-well.
And like “success,” doing “well” is defined differently by different people.
I strongly believe that not everyone is a hard-driving, high-achieving go-getter who is meant to blaze new trails that set the world on fire.
Some people are what I prefer to call “differently motivated” (other more judgmental people call them “lazy”) and define success in their own terms; non-monetary terms, for example, such as contentment with one’s life.
There are many countries in which the inhabitants are extremely poor when compared to U.S. standards, and yet the people are generally fairly upbeat.
Because millions of people around the world will deal or have dealt with one or more mental issues over their lifetimes, I know I am not alone in asking those of you who either don’t have such struggles — or you do and won’t admit it/haven’t been diagnosed as such — to please quit your lecturing and grow some empathy.
Try to see into our minds and walk a mile or two in our shoes. Consider what your life might be like if you had our challenges. And please stop acting holier-than-thou when talking to or about people who aren’t your view of “a success” because all those people have a backstory about which you probably know nothing.
It is not your place to judge others just because they don’t measure up to your, or society’s, or whomever’s, definition of what constitutes a “success” in this life, so either offer some compassion when you speak or just don’t speak.
“I don’t know why fortune smiles on some. And lets the rest go free.”
— The Eagles’ song Sad Cafe, from the Long Run album
Mental health challenges can go both ways.
Interestingly enough, though I believe mental health struggles have often derailed people’s work dreams, ruined careers, gotten people (like me) fired from jobs, these same issues can lead to people being very successful in business or life ventures.
In a 2016 HuffPost article by Dr. Peggy Drexler, she wrote, “The personality extremes associated with entrepreneurship often aren’t all that different from those associated with mental illness, especially bipolar disorder and depression. Great entrepreneurs are bold, charismatic, prone to highs and lows.”
Her article makes me ponder whether those with disorders who didn’t or haven’t exactly flown to great heights in the career world just didn’t have the right mental health challenges.
According to Drexler, Steve Jobs and Charles Lindbergh may have owed at least some of their success in life to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which is “a ‘superachiever’s dream that includes a love of lists, rules, work, and control” (none of which, I will note, are exactly treasured by people with Attention Deficit Disorder).
Or maybe some people who live modestly on purpose just weren’t able to twist themselves enough to meet the expectations of others in what constitutes a “normal life” with lots of material “success” and therefore are judged to be underachievers.
Also, perhaps some had debilitating depression that kept them from getting out of bed in the morning, which led to career ruin. Just sayin’ it’s possible.
“I drive by the homeless sleeping on a cold dark street …Underneath the broken old neon sign/ That used to read Jesus Saves. A mile away live the rich folks And I see how they’re living it up. While the poor they eat from hand to mouth. The rich is drinkin’ from a golden cup. And it just makes me wonder why so many lose, so few win …”
— Poison, “Give Me Something to Believe In.”
So, mental health issues can result in great high and lows, both in career and life success and also to non-success; apparently it can go both ways.
Unfortunately, many people who are homeless (as described in the above song) often suffer from one or more illness or disorder which wrecked their dreams, ruined their finances, resulting in lost relationships, families and their home.
All the more reason that mentally ill people need more compassion, empathy, encouragement, and understanding… and less lecturing. Because shit sometimes happens, shit that people did not choose that made their lives what they are. It is what it is.
Not everyone is made to be a CEO.
It was upon reflection of my life that inspired me to write this, out of compassion for people who may be viewed by others as “non-achievers”, “lazy/unmotivated” or worse, as “losers.”
Sometimes I feel like I am — because I’ve heard the judgments from others who see success in monetary terms, which I have not attained, even though I followed the typical “program” of life that many are expected to follow: Get a good education, a career that makes lots of money, or maybe get married to an upwardly-mobile person and possibly produce more ambitions, productive humans who will rock the world with their material achievements.
I followed some of those “rules” in that I went to college for journalism, worked in the newspaper industry for many years, got married, divorced and had a kid. Though I’m not a best-selling author (yet, anyway) and my newspaper career was a bit hit-and-miss (even though it was very enjoyable and I loved it) and though I didn’t “marry up”, I DID manage to raise (mostly on my own) a smart, wonderfully hard-working adult son who is by many measures a pretty good example of a man. I own a house, a decent car and my life is pretty okay a lot of the time.
What some people might call “mediocrity” I call “living modestly.”
Unfortunately, as it happens for a lot of people, negative thinking — and perceived judgments by others on my life as a long-time single mother who lives modestly — takes over my mind and sadness seeps in because I might think “I haven’t done enough.”
Well, I guess that might be true depending on who is defining the “enough” part. But, on my better days, I realize that to some people I know and love, I’ve done enough.
These are those persons, who include my son, who is pointing out that fact and reminding me that are still opportunities to grow, expand, and reach out with one of my purposes in life, that being, helping and educating people without being judgmental and critical of my life choices that lead to this point.
And I’m grateful to them all for their kindness and for nudging me toward fulfilling my great purposes in life, which include educating (as well as, hopefully, entertaining) people.
It’s why I write.
It’s why I’m writing my abbreviated life story as a plea to people to please quit judging so harshly other persons you think are not “successes,” or ambitious, or whatever.
Not everyone is made to be a CEO, to change the world in a huge way, or be rich and famous (you know, we aren’t all meant to be Oprah, Kobe Bryan, Steve Jobs, Barack Obama).
Not everyone defines success in terms of “stuff.”
Some people — for whatever reason, sometimes reasons like mental health issues that don’t show to the outside world — are fine being “mediocre,” thank you.
Accept that their choices don’t define or hurt you and accept them without disdainful labelling, harsh judgments, and so on. I say this on behalf of all those who are considered (or may consider themselves) “underachievers” to have compassion and quit the moralising and self-righteous putting down of others.
Because we all — especially “in these challenging times” — could use more kindness.