When I make certain kinds of mistakes, I wonder if it is my depression kicking my ass or me, Joseph, dropping the ball.
Severe sleep deprivation is the primary symptom of my depression, so many of my “mistakes” are being late. Waking up early and getting out of bed in a reasonable amount of time is a bitch when my mind and body are screaming for sleep.
Still, there are days when I feel like it’s entirely my fault. I didn’t struggle enough to climb out of bed, so Joseph is to blame and the depression is an excuse.
Then there are the days where my willpower defeats my sickness. I had many of these when my therapist diagnosed me during the summer of 2011.
After four days of being unable to sleep, antidepressants saved me from a fifth day and I realized my therapist was right. I had depressive-anxiety disorder.
Even with therapy and antidepressants, my sleep was horrible. I could hardly think and function. My father and I had a conversation about taking a semester off from school.
I didn’t do it, though. I went back to school immediately.
I chose to push through the aches, nausea, pain and fatigue every day for months because I couldn’t stand the idea of depression defeating me.
This was the caliber of my character triumphing over the severity of my symptoms. It was easy to differentiate the depression from my determination.
Then the conundrum crept in. Depression started becoming a part of my identity, a struggle I took pride in rather than existing only as an illness. It was bleeding into my character, becoming a part of my willpower.
It became a gift as well. After I was diagnosed, I suddenly had focus and ambitions. I knew I wanted to be a professional writer and obtain wild success. Short stories told themselves in my dreams. It was too powerful to be a coincidence.
When I failed or made mistakes, using depression as an excuse became difficult. How could I scapegoat something that had helped me in my career? How could I separate it from my willpower or myself? When I mess up, how much of it is my fault?
Five years later, I am still not sure of the answer. I think about it every time I’m late to work.
Because mental illness influences personality and behavior more than other types of illnesses, it can be hard to separate the person from the condition. It’s also difficult to measure the impact of grit: perseverance and passion for long-term goals.
Grit usually refers to career goals. Nonetheless, I believe people can apply grit to almost anything, including mental health. If someone sets long-term goals to improve their mental health, reduce symptoms of mental illness, eliminate a negative behavior or become a better version of themselves, their passion and perseverance will be a significant factor in their success.
I once interviewed someone who suffered from panic attacks during work. To improve his symptoms, he worked with a therapist and tried a diet proven to reduce anxiety. Despite several setbacks and struggles, he eventually succeeded. His panic attacks subsided, allowing him to improve his performance at work and further his career.
He demonstrated more grit than someone who would have given up and accepted they might be dealing with panic attacks for a long time. He deserves more forgiveness and leeway regarding mistakes than someone who clearly is not trying.
I still make mistakes I partially attribute to my mental illness — mostly being late because of trouble getting up. Important people in my life such as my girlfriend and boss tend to be patient with these mistakes because they understand both my grit and the impact of my illness. They see how the mistakes are becoming less frequent because I am trying so hard to work on my symptoms.
I will never know exactly how much of an excuse my depressive-anxiety disorder is. It’s impossible to determine how separate my illness is from me as a person.
But I do know I can continue to improve if I take responsibility, keep the excuses to a minimum and believe in my grit. No matter how badly my depression beats me down, I have the willpower to do my best.