Most of the time I do a pretty good job of appearing confident; I put on a convincing veneer of self-assurance but, for as long as I can remember, I’ve felt that I am not quite good enough. According to my own unachievable standards, I’m not successful enough, not talented enough, not pretty enough, not thin enough – the list of my self-perceived inadequacies could go on forever. It’s only now I’m well in my 30s that I am finally realising that I am not only enough, but how life is much easier when one operates from a set point of decent self-esteem. Feeling ok in myself is something I have to work on everyday. If there is an upside to having bipolar, it might be that it forces me to be cognisant, see a therapist and practice good self-care. I don’t always succeed at these things but I know that if I don’t at least try, my mental wellbeing will deteriorate. As a consequence, I am encouraged to examine and challenge the beliefs I have about myself.
I know I am not alone in this and many of us feel inferior. Some of this can probably be attributed to compare and despair, an emotional state brought about by social media – a few seconds of scrolling will generate images of people living apparently happier, more successful lives than you. However, there’s always been pressure to keep up with the Jones’ and anyone can fall short of society’s expectations. Part of this is the lack of appreciation for the less obvious achievements things in life. For example, I often feel self-conscious about my body and I focus on what I look like in comparison to other women while forgetting the amazing things my body can do. It gave me a son and recovered quickly after an emergency caesarian. My body allows me work out hard and fast, releasing endorphins and supporting my mental health. My brain lets me down all the time but my body has always been strong, steadfast and healthy. Even after all I put it through during my eating disorders and various addictive behaviours, it survived and bounced back every time. The fact that my legs are not long and slender like a super model’s does not matter; they are strong and muscular and take me wherever I want to go. I’ve only recently come to understand what a privilege it is to be able-bodied. I am grateful for my body, it may not fit in with what society deems to be perfection, but according to a healthier, more forgiving value system, it is good enough.
We are taught to strive for excellence and to be exceptional, but this can lead one down a dark and perilous path. I am never satisfied when I finish a work project; I pick it apart and obsess over all the ways it could have been better. I am always trying to achieve more and while there’s nothing wrong with ambition, I often forget to celebrate the small victories. I continually feel like a failure and that I am not working hard enough, but the truth is that I will never achieve enough to calm those thoughts unless I improve my self-esteem. I hope to process these feelings so I don’t pass them on to my son. A good work ethic is always useful, but I don’t want him to ever fall over and break his arm and get straight back up and carry on working because he’s too frightened to stop. This happened to me at London fashion week a few years ago; I slipped on wet marble and cracked my elbow, then I attended four shows, three meetings and even found time to recorded a voice-over before I went to hospital. If I had been taking adequate care of myself, I would have canceled my work commitments and gone straight to A+E instead of careering around central London in agony, convinced working through the pain was necessary to prove my worth.
I am moving towards feeling good enough; my professional efforts may not always be as successful as I would like (or to everyone’s taste) but that is ok. It’s can be difficult to hold on to this when my depression pays a visit; insidious and slimy, seeping into my self-worth and hissing in my ear that everything I touch turns to shit. I know this voice is lying and I have to doggedly stick to my self-care routine until it goes away. I think the key to feeling good enough is to give yourself a break. If your self-esteem has taken a nose dive, stay off social media for a few days and, when you return, delete anyone who makes you feel rubbish about yourself. Remind yourself that you don’t actually need to be exceptional to live a good life; being a decent person, showing love to those you care about and helping others is what is actually valuable. If you do achieve something outstanding, it will be worthless unless you feel ok in your skin. Relying on external validation is always fickle and precarious; you never know what lurks around the corner and everything you’ve accomplished can come crashing down at a moment’s notice. Think of a new born baby, no one expects it to run a successful business or have a thigh gap. We are all born with inherent value, deserving of love and care. The outside world that teaches us that our value is conditional, but if we can find a way to return to our centre, to our most essential self, we can heal and be reminded that we are, and always were, good enough.