The perception people often have of someone being successful usually goes hand in hand with seeing that person as happy. Happiness itself is a difficult thing to measure, but the external cues interpreted as happiness can be how often that person is going to social events or achieving personal and professional goals, while the stereotype of the depressed person can look like not being able to get out of bed, or not contributing to capitalism.
My experience is almost exactly the opposite. When I am at my most depressed, my bed makes me anxious. I dart between cafés and libraries in a desperate attempt to escape a vague, unpleasant feeling. I throw myself into work and school projects that I do not have energy for in an attempt to prove my self-doubts wrong.
It’s a strange, unsettling thing to look at writing I’ve done, projects I’ve worked on and been quite happy with, things I have received praise and validation for, and realize that I completed them largely through negative coping habits.
It’s not to say I’m not proud of the things I do, and that writing doesn’t bring me very genuine joy, but that the times when others may perceive me as being at my best, I am often at my worst. I wish it were possible to have a more nuanced approach to viewing success, that symptoms of depression could be understood as overextending oneself, as well as retreating.
Sometimes throwing myself into so many new things feels like retreating from myself or the things that truly make me happy. My idea of a very happy day typically looks like sitting in bed, wrapped in blankets, watching a movie with a friend, drinking oolong and doing nothing else.
A new semester is beginning, and a cynical part of my mind is wondering what kind of example I set for others through my approach to university. I get good grades while not taking care of my mental health. I derive a large amount of my personal self-worth through my success in academia, so when I tell a friend at a party that grades don’t reflect intelligence, and the university system is a flawed institution that harms many people, am I just being a hypocrite?
I’ll push myself too hard. I’ll forget to eat. I’ll drink too much caffeine and push myself to still go to social events, forgetting that really I am an introvert, and the kindest thing I could do for myself would be to go home, curl up in bed and read some poems.
As an artist, I really do believe that there is power in the creation of beautiful things. For me personally, art is a vital facilitator of connection both to myself and to others that I simply could not live without. I want to create things that will bring meaning into the world and create points of connection for others. It is also necessary for me to remember not to attach so much importance to the act of creating to the point that it is a serious detriment to my own health.
It’s important to remember that a person’s perceived productivity doesn’t necessarily correlate with their overall well-being. This value placed on productivity in our society can get in the way of talking to others about how we really feel.
Jase is a queer non-binary student and writer who lives on Treaty 1 territory.
Published in Volume 73, Number 14 of The Uniter (January 17, 2019)