After graduating college with my bachelor’s degree in the spring of 2014, everything was working out for me.
I obtained a grant research/writer internship at a private school, which included a stipend and a place to stay. When that ended, I moved in with two of my sisters while they attended graduate school to get their master’s degrees. I obtained a part-time job within two weeks, became certified TEFL instructor, picked up a second part-time job at a library, and began to volunteer at a botanical garden.
I had all my ducks in a row: I was employed, I could pay my bills and student loans, I was making new friends, I had a great relationship with my family, and I was dating on and off. I was successful – so what did I have to be sad about?
On paper, my achievements made me seem like I was sitting on top of the world. That was what I was allowing people to see. I was being followed by my Shadow everywhere I went. In this case, my Shadow was undiagnosed depression, just waiting to steal my happiness and turn me into a shell.
I was taught that if you’re a good person and a hard worker, you’ll reap the benefits. I loved school and did very well, I got jobs on my own accord, and I had a lot of hobbies. I joined a handful of clubs and extracurricular activities, had a great friend group, and was a good athlete. As level-headed and realistic as I was about the “real world,” I was vastly unprepared. I painted a picture of my ideal version of success and went after it full throttle.
I wasn’t gaining satisfaction with my work because my Shadow was forcing me to compare myself to others. I’m the youngest in a set of quadruplets, all girls. I also have two older brothers, so I’m the youngest – and the youngest-youngest. Growing up, I was compared to my siblings all the time. If my brothers did great in school, I had to do great in school. If my brothers joined a school club, I was expected to join the same ones. If they played soccer, it was assumed I’d play as well.
As for being a multiple, you’re compared by default – you’re viewed as a unit. This one is good at music, but this one is great. This one is quiet while the other three are more outgoing. If two are good at science, then why aren’t the other two good at science? I wanted to stand out and have people know me instead of just being a quad. I tried so hard that I put significant pressure on myself and my life. When one thing would go wrong, even the smallest and most insignificant thing, I would break down and worry about being fired from a job or getting into trouble because it would be a blemish on my otherwise spotless record.
I was doing wonderful things, but I wanted to do more, and I couldn’t. I envied my library coworkers who obtained promotions while I received rejections. At my retail job, I would often be given false promises of advancement and more work to do because I can “get stuff done.” All of this just made me ask: why am I not good enough?
I was given many tasks and responsibilities at both of my part-time jobs. The more work I did, the more added to my resume, and the more I was challenged, which I loved. I gained the title of “Safety Captain” at my retail job, I was praised and viewed as a great coworker, I even helped plan big events at my library job. Twice, I was named Employee of the Month at my retail job, but I was never that happy about the honor. I just kept focusing on how to gain my vision of success.
I didn’t think my accomplishments were as great as what anyone else was doing. Two of my sisters were getting their master’s degrees, my two older brothers were excelling in their fields of sports and filmography, and my other sister had a part-time job that gave great benefits and paid well. Meanwhile, I was just working two part-time jobs and looking for a third to stay on top of rent and paying other bills.
All the while, good things kept happening: I was promoted one step higher in my library job after a little over a year (still part-time), I began to create and run my own programs, I started to learn American Sign Language, and I was published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book.
Still, I began to feel less and less like myself.
Before I knew it, my Shadow took over. I couldn’t remember the last time I was genuinely happy. I’m normally a funny, positive person, always looking on the bright side to any situation. I became the exact opposite of myself, and I tried not to let it show. I felt like a failure and didn’t want anyone else to see. I felt like I didn’t have the right to be upset, so I internalized it.
After almost three years of trying, I was promoted to a full-time library job. I was so excited to tell everyone and anyone who would listen. Not because I would get benefits, not because I’d get to work with tweens and teens like I’ve wanted, and not because it would mean higher pay. Having this job meant I had reached success, and everything would fall back into place and go back to normal – my normal.
I was content with the new job, but I found myself working alone when I was used to working in a team environment. Now, if I messed something up, it would really be my fault and my job to fix it. A good opportunity soon added a new amount of pressure to my life. While I had goals to excel and show people that I was the perfect choice for the position, it would soon become a burden to me and cause my Shadow to take hold even more. With this job, I held a few successful programs including a concert and a donation-based program where we gained over 80 donations in 20 days. I was over the moon with the results, but I still wasn’t satisfied.
I confided in a friend about how I suspected I was depressed and eventually sought help from a therapist. My suspicions were confirmed. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and everything started to make sense. Substantial changes like the end of a relationship, death, an illness are all common causes to be depressed – but positive changes can sometimes have the same effect. While positive changes are good, it also comes with a fear of losing control, unrealistic expectations, and feeling unprepared. These things sucker-punched me all at once.
Success, like beauty, is viewed differently by everyone. It’s okay when expectations don’t meet reality. As long as you focus on what you want to achieve for yourself, you’re on the right track.