Failure is often seen as a taboo subject.
We can be vilified, mocked, or scorned for being seen to fail – by others, or ourselves.
I’ve failed many times in my life. Many have tried to comfort me, saying they’re not really failures, but I know deep down that they are.
Living with mental illness has undeniably directly been the catalyst for some of these failures.
I can recall three main times that being mentally ill has caused me to fail. I’m going to talk about these instances today, and want I have learned from them.
My master’s degree
A few years ago, whilst working a full-time job, I also started studying part-time for my master’s degree in Psychology via distance learning.
My job was stressful, emotionally draining, and pretty thankless. I was becoming increasingly unwell trying to manage the stress of working full-time and studying on top of it.
I managed to complete three modules of my master’s degree, then during the fourth module, I finally realised that my mental health was suffering too much to continue. I knew I needed to keep my job in order to pay my rent, bills, and so on, so the only choice I had was to drop out of my master’s programme.
Fortunately, having successfully completed three modules, I was eligible to graduate with a Postgraduate Certificate in Psychology, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time, however, I was upset and disappointed in myself that I didn’t complete the whole course.
I beat myself up for a long time afterwards, due to my “failure” to complete the master’s course, but hindsight is a great thing. I am now able to look back and realise that this situation taught me a lesson; don’t take on too much at the same time. Balance is important and I had completely lost sight of that. I was consumed by taking on more and more, trying to be more and more “productive” with every waking moment. I left no time for rest or leisure. It’s not surprising that my mental health suffered immensely and eventually caused me to break.
I’m still working on my tendency to take on too much, but I definitely have a lot more insight into this habit now.
As I mentioned above, my job a few years ago was hard work. I was dealing with intense situations, an extremely large workload, and a fast-paced environment. Slowly but surely, it wore away at my mental health.
As I became more unwell, I started taking more and more time off work, as I simply couldn’t get out of bed. I was profoundly depressed, self-harming regularly, and I had a few suicide attempts.
After one particular suicide attempt, I disclosed my situation to my line manager, and I was promptly placed on garden leave, and told that I was going to be “redeployed”. However, there were no available positions that were suitable to redeploy me to. It became clear they were going to let me go, so I hastily applied for other jobs and took an admin job elsewhere.
Although I was devastated at being pretty much ousted from my job, I was also relieved that I didn’t have to be in that situation anymore. I was looking forward to a fresh start.
However, little did I know, I was walking into another difficult work environment, and my mental health was continuing to decline.
I continued to self-harm and after a short while, I made my most significant suicide attempt. I was admitted to a psychiatric unit and my dad made contact with my employer to let them know. Immediately, they asked my dad to get me to quit my job. My dad refused, so my employer made the decision to make me “redundant” whilst I was still in the hospital. In essence, I lost my job as a direct result of being mentally ill.
This was a horrible situation in which to be, but looking back at it now, I can learn valuable lessons from the experience.
Firstly, don’t hastily take a job at the first place that offers you a position. Do your research and trust your gut instinct about a place: I had an iffy feeling about the workplace from the beginning, and looking back, I should never have taken the position in the first place. Secondly, I was clearly struggling with suicidal ideation, but not seeking the proper help that I needed. I’ve become a lot better at asking for support when I need it.
After I was made redundant from the job I just talked about, I remained unable to work due to my mental state. However, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to get back into work as quickly as possible.
I decided to go on a massage training course, with the intention of becoming a qualified massage therapist. The course was two days a week for several weeks but seemed manageable. However, it quickly became apparent that the workload was much heavier than I imagined.
We had both theory and practical assignments. We had to produce a portfolio of work, including essays and case studies.
I quickly became overwhelmed. I had rushed back into a work-type environment way too quickly, and my mental health was still poor. On one particular occasion, I ended up crying in class.
I completed the practical training, but I was extremely behind on the theory work, and I hadn’t even started the Anatomy and Physiology course that I was supposed to complete alongside the massage therapy course. With deadlines looming, I realised that once again, I had put myself in an impossible situation, and I dropped out.
Again, at the time, I was devastated. Another failure to add to the list. I had wasted time, money, and energy, and I had nothing to show for it.
However, once again I can now look back and learn a valuable lesson from this experience.
My value as a person is not determined by my productivity. My inability to work is down to my illness, not personal faults or laziness. This has been a difficult lesson to learn, but one which has been crucial to my ongoing mental health.
As you can see, these situations had a direct correlation with the state of my mental health at the time. Some may disagree with my use of the word “failures”, but I think as long as I can see these failures as learning points, I don’t think the word “failures” holds the power that we generally think it does.
Do any of my experiences resonate with you? Can you think of any lessons you’ve learned as a result of your failures? Let me know in the comments.