“What was your biggest failure?”
I was recently interviewing for a new job when this question came up and I was quite taken-aback by it. At the time, I made up a suitably interview-spin response about not getting onto a PhD course which led me to actually start on my current career path. But it has got me thinking seriously about this subject: admitting and learning from failures in life is important and probably essential. I think I have spent a lot of time either trying to forget about the really bad times in my life, or ‘working through’ and ‘moving on’ from these moments with various therapists. Also in my career and my day-to-day job, I am constantly trying to convince others that I am a successful and beneficial member of the team. So if I am ignoring my failures, is that a failing in itself?
Therefore I decided to consider my biggest failures and what I have learnt from them:
I attempted suicide
I would consider this to be definitely my biggest failure. Some people (and I’ve certainly seen them on Twitter) might think that attempting suicide and still being alive is the failure. This might be so - from the perspective of suicide ideation etc. But as a suicide attempt survivor, I realise that the real failure was receiving that point in my life where I felt like the only answer was to give up entirely. Making the decision (or decision to ignore the fact) of selfishly abandoning my family and friends was certainly a major failing on my part - and probably the issue that now bothers me the most from that episode. But deciding that I wasn’t going to try anything to make my life better was a major failing.
Having said that, I am pleased that it happened, as it led to my diagnosis of Bipolar I. For me, my suicide attempt was also very clinical in nature: a result of a major manic episode leading to a major depression, which - coupled with being misdiagnosed and given the wrong medication - induced the ‘mixed state’ episode that ‘sealed the deal’, so to speak, on my life. I’m also pleased as its now given me the perspective and knowledge that I always needed on the topic of ending your life. I was always that-way-inclined: as a teenager I used to ruminate with a like-minded friend for hours on how great it would be to commit suicide (she actually eventually succeeded and died at age 21), and the best choices for how to go through with it. As an adult, it always seemed to be a valid option: if life got that made and depression that terrible, then why not? But after coming so close to completing it, I now know that suicide is not the easy option at all. It is tortuously painful, frightening behind comprehension, idiotically stupid as a chosen decision, and ultimately it is masterfully selfish.
My first marriage ended in divorce
Another moment of my life that I would consider a serious failing, is my first marriage. Looking back on the relationship, it wasn’t really ever good to start with. I sort of ‘fell into it’: drunken kiss leading to more, leading to international visits and trips together, leading to the decision to marry in order to be together. Due to the nature of the distance relationship, when we saw each other, I was always on a ‘high’ (which I know understand to be hypomania), maintaining ‘rose-tinted glasses’. It sounds clichéd, but I didn’t listen to my gut, which time and time again I knew to be telling me that this is the wrong decision. And we also didn’t get married for the right reasons. I was also too young and the relationship was not tested enough for it to succeed in marriage. It was only after we got married that I realised what he was really like. The relationship was abusive: he was controlling, rather violent with clear anger management problems, and he was an alcoholic.
But again, I have grown as a person because of it. I am no longer idealistic or naive. I also now realise that you have to make choices for the right reasons - if it for the wrong reasons, it is likely to fail. Finally - and again most importantly - I now understand what a good relationship looks like, and the healthy and positive way in which partners should treat each other. It has all made me a better partner, and I am now in a relationship that is beautiful and which I cherish, and who I would never, ever take for granted.
I consistently fail to maintain friendships and close family relationships
Another life failure that bothers me the most, is my failure to maintain close relationships. I think that this is fairly common for people with mental health issues, for a variety of reasons (although saying that is probably an act of cognitive dissonance on my part). But the truth is that I have very few friends that I have stuck by me year after year, and I think that is due to failings on my part. I am quite socially strained - not so socially anxious per se, as I have periods of excellent social interaction (ahem, hypomania). But my abilities to maintain relationships lack consistency, as sometimes I am willing to socially interact, but a lot of the time I am not. This makes some family members or friends believe that I have ‘changed’, or that my wanting to maintain a close relationship has somehow changed. I have also lost friends due to my manic behaviour, such as when I was at school, a friend stopped wanting to hang out with me as I was a ‘lying slut’. Harsh words but it was actually pretty accurate for how I was acting at the time. Also due to my perceptions of relationships during up and down periods - such as getting paranoid that they don’t like me - I push people away or alienate them. And finally, I think that I very rarely sincerely explain how much I appreciate my friends and family.
This is the first time that I have fully admitted this failing to myself, and I think there is a lot of work to do to improve on this. I imagine that a large part of fixing this, is honesty. I should honestly explain where I am coming from, how much I value them, and try to come up with best ways to interact and see them. I will try and reach out and see whether that helps.
So, what does all of this mean?
Failure is a fact of life, making you a normal human being, and it is even considered by many as an essential human right. Although the failures I have listed are massive, and the results have affected my life in profound ways, it is good that I can understand and learn from them.
And I believe this relates to everyone. Having a mood disorder might make me have some more dramatic life failures than the average person, but the learning-curve is the same. I hope by sharing this I help others, and I would strongly recommend that you sit down and have a real heart-to-heart with yourself about failures in your life, and the lessons that you have - or should have - learnt from them. Embracing the bad as well as the good sides of yourself is also the only way to truly love and forgive yourself.
In this post I discuss suicide. If you are having suicidal thoughts, please take it seriously and let someone know. There are many very good helplines that I fully recommend, which can offer assistance, support and understanding. Also remember that it is never the right answer and you should never consider it as a valid option.