Success = Happiness?
*Trigger Warning: Celebrity Suicide*
I know that it's natural to strive for success - passion drives ambition and, if there's something that you're driven by, it's natural to want to make a "success" of it. The point I'd really like to drive home here, is that success does not make someone immune to mental illness and its symptoms. Success is nice, sure, but it doesn't necessarily equals happiness - and until we recognise that, we're going to continue to stigmatise ourselves and others.
Before we go any further, just a quick nod to the fact that YES, success is measured differently by different people and YES some people measure their success by how happy they are, but for the purpose of me getting my point across without fannying about looking for an alternative word that works for everyone; please can you park that thought for now. In this post, I'm very much talking about career success, financial success and audience approval.
I'd like to make a success of this blog. I'd like to make a success of the podcast and I'd like to build my YouTube audience. I don't think this is a negative goal for me to have - I see it as a positive. And I don't think any of you should give up your dreams of being an actor or a singer or a business owner or a full time blogger or the best car salesman in Surrey or of touring Europe with your band - I deliberately surround myself with people who have dreams, because these people are full of interesting ideas and they have that sparkle in their eye when they tell you their plans. It could be a small dream - it could be that you want to make the best Lancashire Hot Pot in your household or that you want to brew your own beer in the attic. Having a goal is important - and allowing yourself to feel that "buzz" of success when you achieve it is equally important.
But is it the same as happiness?
I'd argue not. I think that happiness comes from a sense of inner fulfillment that keeps you going even in the toughest times. But I measure my happiness by my inner peace, my friendships, my ability to be grateful and I don't think that my happiness is affected LONG TERM by success - I think that having the dream in the first place certainly makes my life feel richer, but I don't think finding a podcast sponsor in the next month will make me happier in 2020 - or certainly not in the same way that nurturing a new friendship would.
People always seem to be shocked when celebrities commit suicide. Mostly they are shocked because of the perceived success that these people have. "How could they want to end their lives when they HAVE IT ALL?!" or something along those lines. But really success is kind of projected on to you. It's a unique perspective on your life that people on the outside see a lot more clearly than you do - and that's sad.
I might try something 10 times before I make it work. And while I will see that as something that had a fail rate of 90%, YOU will only notice it when it's succeeded. You're too busy looking at your own failures to notice mine, but you will of course celebrate my achievements - and that's beautiful - or at least, it would be, if I could see myself through your eyes.
And I'm not even talking about all the pressures that come with success that make someone a role model or expose them to public criticism and hate. I'm just talking about how they see themselves and their internal struggles; neither of which are known to the people looking in.
Suicide is a fucking tragedy. It's shocking and sad no matter who the victim is.
Maybe we look up to Bernard Bernadson because he has 100 cats and maybe all we've ever wanted was a cat. And maybe Bernard wants to make it work with his wife and can't, and maybe he absorbs the pain of the world because he has a high level of empathy and maybe he lives with flashbacks or hallucinations or crippling addiction and maybe one day he can't take it anymore. But all we see is the cat that we wanted, but could never have and the fact that he has 100 of them and so we CAN'T understand why someone who is successful could ever feel such desperation and hopelessness.
Sometimes when I'm struggling, I think about all the people who are worse off in the world and I feel overwhelming guilt. I know it's stupid - someone else suffering more doesn't lessen my suffering, but it's still easy to fall into the trap. Imagine how heavy that burden must be when you're in the public eye or when you're the figurehead of a movement or when you're on the cover of Forbes. I think it would be very easy to not feel entitled to the struggle you're experiencing and to feel ashamed of it and so I truly take my hat off to people like Ryan Reynolds, who conquer that fear and speak out about their mental health. But I also take my hat off to YOU.
It's hard to admit to yourself that success is not happiness and that happiness is not immunity to mental illness. Don't feel guilty about "having it all" but still having your symptoms. The two are not related. And yes, someone has it harder than you. But this is your journey. And only you will ever experience it and only you will ever know how hard it is or how brave you're being.
You ARE entitled to feel however you feel and to make time for self care and to take time out to recover AND to NEED recovery. You are. You deserve to be here and you deserve to be alive and you do deserve success and happiness, but you also deserve to be healthy and I wish those things for every one of you.
With that being said.
You can hear more from me by heading over to Pigletish Talks the Anxiety Podcast and listening to me (and my best friend, Sarah) talk to some amazing people about their mental health journeys. Please subscribe and leave us a review - we read every single one and it make such a huge difference to our days too.