My Mistakes, My Mental Illness

I don’t expect perfection from others. If someone makes a mistake, I understand that it is just part of being human. Even if that mistake directly impacts me in some negative way, I recognize, frustrated though I might be in the moment, that mistakes happen. They do. I know it. So, why don’t I treat myself the same way?

I expect perfection from everything I do and, being human, I often fall short. This triggers a negative feedback loop that some of you, dear readers, may recognize. I beat myself up for even the smallest mistake, often distracting myself enough to make another small mistake, and another mistake until my mind is a whirlwind of self-doubt and self-deprecation.

I then think that everyone around me, especially those closest to me, whose opinions I care the most about, see my mistakes and look down on me. “How could he be so incompetent,” I imagine them saying to themselves. Of course, this is just my brain lying to me, as brains do when they’re gripped by mental illness. And I know that.

I am fortunate that I’ve managed to learn some coping methods for this struggle. I’ve learned to look at myself as if I am someone else, which makes it easier for me to apply the same compassion I feel when someone else makes a mistake. I’ve learned to ask myself how important is this mistake really? Will it matter a year from now? How about a month from now? How about even a week from now? Because most mistakes don’t leave lasting impacts, despite what my brain is telling me.

Am I perfect in applying these coping methods? No, of course not. I am only human. And of course, when I fail, I beat myself up, just as I described above. But at least I have those tools. At least I can forgive myself some of the time. And improvements like that, no matter how small, are a big deal. Because those incremental improvements will build on themselves. And they will matter in a week. And in a month. And in a year. They will matter much more than my mistakes. And now I can tell myself that bit of self-encouragement as well. And so can you.

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