This week, us eAmbassadors are writing about success.
We were in our monthly meeting and got a little off topic railing on how unattainable ideals of success for today’s students can be, which then lead to a discussion of what success even is. Francette, who is of course one of the oldest and wisest of us and therefore full of great ideas, suggested we do a themed week where we each would talk about our own personal ideas of success.
So here I am trying to ruminate on success while sitting in a dorm common room with some friends, all of us pretending to be productive in-between bouts of singing Adele and Hillary Duff. (#reslifestruggles)
I used to have a very strict view of what I thought success was. I was your classic overachiever child. It was all straight A’s or bust in my mind. Getting a word wrong on a spelling test was the end of the world to me, despite the fact that I was taking spelling tests meant for students several years older than I was.
I was “the smart one” in my family, -heck, I helped teach my older brother to read- and that was my identity for a long time. I knew what I wanted from life and that was success. I had dreams of being that student. You know the student I mean; on student council, in all of the clubs, and academically perfect. Sometimes I even unrealistically pictured myself on a sports team or two despite the fact that I still can’t kick a soccer ball without landing flat on my back. Being shy to the point of constant anxiety prevented me from even attempting a lot of those things, but every year I promised myself would be THE year. The one where I suddenly became a different person, outgoing, a leader, etc.
It’s probably not a shock to those of you reading this that I wasn’t necessarily the happiest child. At the very least the adults in my life were always concerned about my mental health, and I remember my teachers meetings with my parents about it as early as kindergarten, but in general I think I was a pretty normal kid and I was often happy. I didn’t always like myself very much, and I had rough patches but I got through them just fine. Depression has never seemed foreign to me, and back then it was just a lowkey part of who I was, one that I had no name for.
It was in highschool that things got really bad, though middle school wasn’t a crazy fun time for me either. Maybe it was the result of years of pretending that everything that went on in my brain was fine, but something inside of me gave way and with grade nine came my first true panic attack. I’ll skip all the details because reliving that sort of thing is hard for me, but by grade eleven my attendance at school had dropped to ridiculously poor levels and every morning simply getting out the door without crying or freezing up with panic was often a struggle that took hours, so even when I went to school I went late.
When mental illness hits you that hard your definition of success changes drastically. Success was now not some teen movie ideal that I strived for, success was going to school every day for a week, success was not canceling plans with my friends last minute, success was a normal sleep schedule instead of nights spent in a spiral of negativity and stress.
I was never in any danger of failing out of highschool, and the vast majority of my grades remained A’s, but I was, much as I loathe to admit it even now, in some danger of just dropping out altogether. I’ve always loved school and it was that fact, as well as my ridiculously understanding and kind teachers, that kept my grades up, but I was living with the constant fear that one day I would wake up and have missed enough consecutive school days that there would be no point in returning. There were also days when I couldn’t remember why I cared enough to even bother trying.
If you haven’t gone through something similar it seems a little ridiculous and more than a little pathetic that I wouldn’t just get up and go to school. It was only a fifteen minute bus ride away, I had loads of good friends there, and I liked most of my teachers and classes. But the problem wasn’t an external one, and had nothing to do with school itself; school was just the main obligation in my life at that point, and so was the part of my life that was the most affected by what I was going through. The problem can also be explained from a logical standpoint. I was eventually diagnosed with Panic Disorder, (and Major Depressive Disorder, but that’s less important in this context) with a specific problem with anticipatory anxiety (having a panic attack because of the fear that you might have another panic attack, which, as you can imagine, is a real barrel o’ fun). This usually leads to a very strong need to avoid the place where a panic attack has happened, and I think you can guess where most of mine occurred. Let’s just say I became intimately acquainted with the back rooms of the main office at school, where they would often usher me away from prying eyes until I could breathe properly.
Things got better slowly, for many reasons, some of which I’m not particularly comfortable talking about, but I’m not going to lie and say that I’ve somehow been cured of my mental illness. I still struggle with it daily, and the transition to university has been hard on me without my support system constantly surrounding me. I’ve missed a few classes already, I’ve had a few breakdowns, and my insomnia is rearing it’s ugly head. But I’m here, and that’s my #GLsuccess.
I’m here, I’m alive, I’m living my dreams, and I’m trying. Every single day I continue to try. That little success brings with it a feeling of fulfillment that no other success I’ve achieved in the past has given me.
If you are living, and breathing, and waking up everyday then you are succeeding at life. I am not someone who “simply fails at living” despite my past claims, and I promise you aren’t either. Sometimes bothering to try at all can be the hardest thing in the world, and every time I manage to really, truly smile, or every time I’m sitting in a lecture hall awed by the fact that I somehow made it here, I will try to remind myself that I am a success story. I think everyone should do the same.
“Whatever causes night in our souls may leave stars.”