I’ve always been a bit selfish. Not selfish in that I’d screw everyone over in favour of my own needs or wishes without a second thought, but selfish in that I’ve always thought about myself first, and regularly acted upon it before thinking of others. I think we are all a little bit inclined that way. It’s necessary, to a point.
At Christmas I’d always steal three of the nicest Roses the minute the box was opened, and hide them somewhere around the house so that days later when everyone started complaining of the best ones being gone, I could run silently to my hiding place and return, gleeful not that I could provide everyone else with a final taste of their favourite sweet, but that I could sit triumphantly before them eating what they wished they had. Making them jealous.
I always wanted to seem better; luckier. Not outspokenly, but the appearance of fortune and talent was so important to me that I’d force the image upon people by telling them of my successes, even if minor, and by notifying them of things that I knew when I knew they didn’t. I wanted to seem important. Because of the strength of this will to appear better, and my minor successes academically early on, it generally came across that way. Thinking and planning ahead like that to ensure people know of your brilliance without seeming overtly self-centred and obvious is extremely mentally draining, however.
As I got older, it morphed into a kind of crippling self-consciousness that compulsed me to feel admired by everyone; to subtley emerge as being the best at things, whether it was musically, academically, fashionably, or otherwise. I needed to feel as if I was ahead of others; better, or more adept somehow. Basically, I wanted to appear as if I had my shit together. As if I knew what I was doing and where I was going at all times. Which I didn’t. At all.
What even is it to have your shit together? Does shit go together? Is it supposed to slot into place like a jigsaw? It took me quite a while to get to the point where I realised that even the simplest jigsaw doesn’t work if some of the pieces are missing or broken.
Despite generally leading a good life, being averagely academic, having loving parents, a reasonable amount of friends, and even a hobby or two that I actually excelled in (and not just pretended to), as I approached my mid-teens, I grew steadily and subtley more and more unhappy.
Despite mentally reassuring myself that I would come out on top, that I was best at what I was doing, which as a child I’d grown accustomed to achieving naturally, as life went on and got naturally harder I struggled to grasp the realisation that I wasn’t, and never would be, the best at everything. Sitting in maths class faced with a particularly complicated problem, realising it was something in which I did not excel naturally, I gradually stopped caring. I grew to hate the things which didn’t occur naturally – things for which I actually had to try to achieve. I still aimed to impress in my areas of ‘expertise’, those to my knowledge then being music and writing, yet even in these disciplines as we went up the years in school all of a sudden I became aware that I was not infact the only girl in the class who could sing, and shockingly enough was not the only person who had read a lot of books as a child, and thus had a love for writing.
Becoming aware of myself and my peers at this age, in this way, is something for which I am eternally grateful. Maybe it’s just my conceited nature taking over again, but the realisation that despite my talents, there was always going to be someone better than I was really had an impact on my life from then onwards.
As much as I accepted it, or rather, pretended to accept it, it spiralled out of control as I started college, extremes of emotion being something I had always allowed myself indulge in as a child, and I grew depressed. In all honesty, when I think back to the first time I sat in the doctor’s office and weepily tried to explain why I thought I’d been referred there, I knew in my head that it was these extremes that were causing my unhappiness. If I could somehow learn to reel them in and control them, balance out the urge to be perfect with the realistic and human coniditon of imperfection, then I would be ok. But at eighteen, having just been given my first taste of freedom and independence in the form of college and nights out and boys, this rationality was not something which came high upon my list of priorities, and I let my mental health slip into deterioration as simply as if it had been a maths problem in school that I knew had to be solved, but because of it’s difficulty had been skipped over silently to the end of the page to a sum that was easier and more straightforward to solve.
Quick fixes don’t exist. Wanting to appear as if there isn’t a problem, as if you are on top of your game at all times and are aware of every outcome and possibility, just isn’t feasible when you realise that you aren’t that stubborn and selfish child anymore, and that being honest with yourself is always best. Problems evolve over time and become bigger and more difficult to handle, and that child who once took everything on the cuff becomes swamped in a sea of emotion and issues too large to imagine. In this sense I like to imagine my younger self as Alice in Wonderland when she shrinks to fall down the rabbit hole, and gets washed away by everyday things that are now bigger than she can control. If you let yourself get out of your depth without a strong foothold to climb back up with, you run the risk of losing sense of yourself entirely. It’s difficult to explain, but as time goes on and you realise things don’t always work out the way you’d planned, and that you’re not going to succeed at absolutely everything you do, it becomes easier to accept your failures and limitations. I’m all for the ‘no limitations’ attitude, but there are certain things in life that just don’t suit some people. I, for my sins, could never even fathom being able to work out a maths theorem, whereas some people I know couldn’t begin to tell you how to hold a tune. People are people. People are different. People like different things, and different people, and it’s not very often that you can exercise any sort of control over this. Once the acceptance of this diversity becomes part of your life, it becomes easier to rebuild and move on. There will always be that sense of regret, that little bitter and regretful nine-year-old who pines after the last chocolate, lamenting at the injustices of life that you couldn’t have that particular person, get that particular job, or have that particular type of hair. But once you ‘ve shut her up once, you’ll know you can shut her up again. It’s not a quick fix, and it’s not going to make any sadness go away and become immediately better and happy, but at least you’ll know. You’ll know why you feel that way, and that it’s merely a passing phase, and part of life. I don’t believe that there’s a cure for depression. The only chance of recovery must come from within the person themselves, and the realisation of the ability to recognise your own thought patterns and tendencies. Recognising them won’t immediately fix it either, but at least knowing what you’re dealing with makes it slightly easier to control. It’s as ongoing a process as the world is a revolving sphere. Just because your body has stopped growing and changing after childhood doesn’t mean that your mind is finished too. The mind is something which needs constant care and reassurance, a conscious effort made to maintain it, not unlike personal fitness. I think that’s probably why a lot of people in mental distress turn to fitness and physical health to enable them to find a balance. Since I’ve started regularly running and become physically fit I’ve certainly noticed a difference in my mental capacity to deal with minor problems and upsets, that before would have left me reeling. But, like the muscles in my body, if I didn’t address it regularly and see to it that I take care of my mind, it too would weaken and deteriorate.
I suppose what I’m getting at with all this is that balance is the key to any stable relationship, be it with your body, your mind, food, or another person. It took years for me to finally see the importance of it, and even then another few passed before I finally got the hang of it (and by got the hang of it I mean I have on occasion successfully managed to balance my mind and body for more than a few days at a time!). To appear as if everything is perfect and successful and rosy is simply not a realistic goal, and perfection is a non-existant figment of every idealist’s imagination. You may have an impression or an idea of what perfect is, but whatever, whoever, whenever or wherever it is, I can assure you from the bottom of my heart and with the most balanced and measured compassion that I can muster ; it is not.