I am afraid.
This is not a surprise, I have anxiety and depression and I’m afraid of many things, but right now I feel an acute fear that I will never be satisfied. I recently was hired for a new job. I’m incredibly excited about it. It has many things that sound great to me, and I’m trying to keep a positive attitude going into it. But ever since I started my last job and found myself falling back into depression, I’ve had a dark and pervasive worry that I have tried not to think about. And then I was asked a few days ago about my new job: what will you do if you don’t like it? What if you’re getting your expectations up too high? Is this a pattern of excitement and disappointment? What if nothing will satisfy you except for the high of something new?
Ah. So that’s the quiet, unspoken terror that made my job hunt hellish and has left me anxious despite having been hired. Somewhere in the back of my mind there is always the worry that nothing will ever be good enough for me. I get bored too quickly. I get excited about something new and want to move on. I’m worried about this in every aspect of my life: house, boyfriend, job, school, friends. I have been so unhappy with so many situations over the past five years, and the only thing that all of those situations have had in common is me. Therefore it must be my fault.
I suspect this is a common fear for people with mental illness. For me, it fits in with a larger philosophical fear and picture, that everything I do and am is meaningless. How can I ever be satisfied with my life if my life will always be meaningless? How do I move forward with this worry? How do I have any faith that my future will be better than my past?
It’s true that I do have a pattern. I get very excited about new things. I feed off of that excitement. I throw myself into something new, hoping it will solve all my problems, then I decide that it’s not perfect or not exactly what I want and suddenly become miserable. It’s as if the bottom falls out from under me and then something else always looks a little better. I get bored incredibly quickly, I start wondering and musing and falling into depression once the excitement wears off and my mind has space to wander. And it’s true that when I start to become incredibly unhappy with my situation, the hope of change is what gets me through. The change usually disappoints though.
I’m sure that some of this has to do with my own mental state. It’s hard to hear that out loud from another person, that it’s not the situation to blame for my unhappiness but rather it’s me. It’s hard to be faced with the idea that I could be satisfied if I were to change myself, and that I could be satisfied with situations that feel intolerable right now. However despite the difficulties, I do think that it’s important for anyone who is unhappy to evaluate whether the unhappiness is internally or externally generated though.
However as I move forward into this new position I do have some thoughts about whether I’m too excited or putting all my eggs into one basket, and I think that these are things for anyone to think about who’s worried about their future. Going into something expecting that it will be a positive experience is far more likely to yield a positive experience than going into something expecting negativity. While disappointment does suck, and having low expectations can help diminish disappointment, our expectations can often shape our experience. At my current position, I worked very hard to delude myself into thinking it would be ok for longer than I should have. If I had come in expecting the work to be below my level, I would not have made it through five months of work here. It seems to me to always be better to go in with high hopes than already disappointed, or you’re sure to be miserable.
And as I move forward, I have taken the time to examine my past negative experiences and come to the conclusion that I did actually enjoy elements of each of them. I think that it’s important to recognize that my negative experiences in the past were not unilaterally bad: yes, I am a more picky person than most and have more difficulty tolerating distress, but the more I can look at the positive elements of things I have done and pull from those to create an overall positive experience, the better off I’ll be. Right now I’m not good at recognizing the positives I have in the moment, but I am starting to look at the positives of the past. I’m hoping to learn how to recognize and appreciate positives as they happen.
In addition, I have spent a lot of time recently learning to tolerate distress. I have found things that keep me busy and as satisfied as possible while at work (not the least of which is writing this blog). I have gotten better at making my life outside of work positive, and gotten better at asking for help from my support network. It’s important for me to recognize how far I have come. It’s important to recognize that my mind is not the same mind that it was six months or a year or five years ago.
Each of us with mental health problems might need to go through these steps when we face a large change. We have to reassure ourselves that things are not unassailably bleak, or that the change will not fix all our problems. We have to remind ourselves constantly of what has worked for us in the past and try to incorporate it into our lives as much as possible, but also remind ourselves of what we have control of, and how we have changed and grown and taken control of bad situations. These are incredibly difficult things to do and especially hard to remember when all you can do is look forward at the future and imagine a series of endless 9-5 jobs that will leave you depressed and miserable, slogging endlessly into oblivion. And so as we look at the vast unknown of the future, we should also look at the past, and remember the pieces that have left us smiling, challenged, engaged, and excited.
The only way to beat back the fear is to move forward with as much strength as we can draw from the past.