Funny thing, failure. It’s an unavoidable feature of life. I have tried my best to avoid failure and yet failure seemed to always find me. In the somewhat recent past I avoided failure by not trying. I avoided failure by avoiding making decisions. I mistakenly thought that this approach kept me safe, because if you don’t risk anything, you can’t fail. This approach was in response to repeated personal disasters in my life. These disasters included dropping out of school twice, as well as multiple hospitalizations and arrests due to mental health crises, related to untreated bipolar disorder and substance abuse. On top of that, my 20’s were marked by a general inability to get a career, friendships or relationships on track during that time. The weight of all this failure was felt deeply in 2010, a year in which I was arrested twice, went to jail, and was in 3 different mental hospitals and a rehab. This insane 4 month span of my life conspired to make me extremely risk averse and cautious. Once I managed to gain some mental health and life stability, I was determined to hang on to it at all costs. I was terrified of losing my freedom again. Hence the strategy of not trying, and extreme avoidance of any potential risk. One positive of this strategy is that I did manage to quit drinking alcohol completely. Quitting this one substance has turned out to have a huge positive impact on my life. On the whole though, this strategy of doing nothing as a way to avoid disaster, well, it quite ironically failed miserably.
This four year period of complete risk aversion, from 2010 to 2014, was in some ways much worse than the instability and chaos of my life before. Suicidal depression became the constant issue, and even though I had quit drinking and was taking medication, my mental health was not close to an ideal state. I basically retreated from the world for four years and took no risks. I was for the most part extremely miserable. I couldn’t hide that fact. I wasn’t trying to do anything with my life. At one point I was literally only smoking a large amount of weed, playing video games and eating and sleeping. I couldn’t shake the depression or the suicidal ideation. I suppose part of me knew there was more to life than that, and also knew I could do something interesting with my life, potentially. That knowledge just added to my despair because I believed I couldn’t achieve or accomplish anything. The difficulty was that in order to change my situation and get out of the spot I was stuck in, I would need to take risks and step into the unknown. By August of 2014, the depression and suicidal ideation I was experiencing during this period had finally become completely untenable. I found myself in a do or die moment.
I came to a place where I had to risk failure, or just continue to suffer in the pathetic misery of doing nothing with my life. I wrote a private essay on this website about how I felt no hope and wanted to die. I shared it with a trusted friend, who expressed to me serious concern. Through this process, it had finally become painfully apparent to me that my strategy of doing nothing, and taking no risks, wasn’t working. Someone in my life at that time suggested I check out addiction recovery, so on the couch that night some time in September, of 2014, I resolved to sober up and start making changes. It’s been mostly uphill since then. I’ve been hit with setbacks, and had some failures, but a lot more success than not. Part of learning to be successful has been coming to grips with the fact that failure and struggle are inevitable, especially for someone with my set of diagnoses (Bipolar Type 1, Anxiety, PTSD, Substance Abuse). My failures since September of 2014 need to be framed in the context of successful stability and sobriety. I haven’t used substances, I haven’t had a manic/psychotic episode, I’ve been able to successfully attend school and work. I completed a bachelor’s degree in Political Science. I’ve been active in volunteering communities, leading support groups and giving talks to audiences of peers, family members of the ill, and first responders. At times my stability has taken a hit, and I had to readjust. I even had to go back to the hospital at one point. I’m more able to accept setbacks not as failures but as opportunities for change and growth. It hasn’t always been fun, it hasn’t always been non-stop success. Sometimes, just existing has been pretty tough, especially when depression has me in its grips. At times I’ve contemplated getting drunk or high or just killing myself as a way out. I guess my brain just goes there organically. But I want to live. I want to fight. I want to matter. I have a choice: sit back, do nothing and decay, or get on with living and keep moving forward no matter what. I’m going forward.