Mental Health

Six Cats and a Black Dog: On ‘Failure’, Reevaluation and Reinvention

Donna Brown1611 views
Chameleon: 'Failure', reevaluation and reinvention
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Blog for Mental HealthIn 2015, I made a Blog For Mental Health pledge. Sadly, there is no pledge in 2017 and the Blog for Mental Health site is no longer being curated, though it is currently still accessible. However, this was a wonderful project (and it ran for several years) and I’m truly glad it got me blogging about this subject.

On ‘Failure’, Reevaluation and Reinvention

Failure: 'Failure, reevaluation and reinvention'
How can we hit the target if we never try to aim for anything?

I used to consider myself a failure. Actually, let’s not get carried away. I still, very often, for large chunks (be it of a day, a week, a month…) fight that feeling. Recently, I said to someone that “I don’t need people to be unkind to me. I can be unkind enough for everyone.” Hands up if you recognise that feeling…

I’m 37 this year and I have done quite a few things. I launched an online business but had the foresight to see the money fleeing away at a far faster rate than it could ever be replenished. Ultimately, I had to close it. Thus, I remember that blip of a couple of rocky years and how bad it felt. Not that I have been successfully self-employed for coming up to 6 years now. Not that many of the skills I currently use in my work were self-taught.

Failure in work and play?

Beyond work, I have self-published two novellas and a trio of short stories and co-authored 3 books about the rather surreal workings of the cat mind. Of course, it’s usually only the bad reviews I recall. Do I remind myself that I never wanted to be a writer, per se, in terms of a paid career? That I just had stories in my head that I wanted to be out there and so I put them out there? Only after the self-delivered ‘failure’ sneer…

I forgot that giving myself space to try isn’t the same as failing

I wanted to live in London so I moved to London. Of course, I focus on ending up in hospital and subsequently moving back home, very ill and in serious need of support. Not that I moved down as a 20 year old, knowing no one, with a job lined up and a room in a house share but nothing else save a suitcase and a rucksack and my National Express ticket.

Finally, I’m accepting that living with depression doesn’t make me weak or a wreck but, yes, that has taken a long time. I’ve lived through 5 serious and lengthy episodes of depression since being initially diagnosed with mild depression at 18 and then having that very first major episode just two years later. Often, I’ve been able to carry on working right through. There’s no ‘hooray me’ vibe here, by the way. I was lucky that work was often my solace. Yet I dwell on the pain I’ve caused my friends and family and all the missed visits or meals etc. Not 19+ years living with something that made even just brushing my teeth feel an exhausting and overwhelming task some days. It’s a process, though. Step by step…

Reevaluation is not failure

The one consistent thing I always wanted to do was be a teacher. As a child, I gave my dolls and toys ‘lessons’, marked them in on a register, pretended to mark work. (This is slightly humorous to me now given that even my short experience of marking left me very disenchanted with that particular task!)

Idea: 'Failure, reevaluation and reinvention'
Not all of my bright ideas have been that bright. That doesn’t make them failures.

Anyway, last academic year and for the first few months of this academic year, I threw myself into my teaching practice with abandon. Having done that and well surpassed the required hours, I’m now pretty sure I am not going to be pursuing a teaching role next academic year. That’s not to say I’m saying I’ll never want to teach but not now, not yet. Or maybe just not in the way I’d always dreamed, with my registers and my chalkboard and the many expectant happy-to-learn faces. (Yes, I was that naive…)

Of course, my initial self-judgement was ‘you failure!’. Why would I do a teaching course if I didn’t intend to teach? What a waste! Except it hasn’t been – or rather it won’t have been when I finish. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Reinforcement and reinvigoration

Question: 'Failure', reevaluation and reinvention
I’m resolving to question my ideas – and ideals – without resorting to the ‘failure’ sneer…

Instead, it’s reinforced the things I love – knowledge and learning and helping other people get excited about those things. Planning, preparation, organisation, thinking on your feet, reflection, creativity. It’s also made me realise something I had overlooked. I already had many of those things in my life. My work required many of those things already. My life in general offered many opportunities to embrace a range of skills. I assumed that I wasn’t doing anything worthwhile just because I was not doing something that might be considered wholly worthwhile.

I wasn’t changing anyone’s life or really helping anyone, shaping anyone. Surely I should be doing more? In all honestly, I assumed it was selfish to find my former work rewarding enough. I now think I was very wrong. Since I took a step back from my course and my placement, I’ve reevaluated. I’m reinvigorated and refreshed for it. I hope I will still do something in education at some point and I’m looking forward to an upcoming voluntary placement in a museum. I have new work on a big new project not in education and that’s fine too. It’s not where I expected to be but I’m not scared by that. I’m excited and enjoying it. I’m not considering that a failure.

All or nothing…

Adventure: 'Failure', reevaluation and reinvention
How can you embrace adventure if you consider every ending a failure?

I’ve pretty much approached everything in my life as an all or nothing scenario. It’s taken me this long to realise that life isn’t so black and white. I’ve been a secretary, a researcher, a Burger King crew member, a claims supervisor, a virtual assistant, a student, a trainee teacher. Am I a failure because I am no longer all of those things? Of course not. Just because you choose not to do something any more or even do it in a different way than anticipated doesn’t make you a failure.

I think it will take me a long time to stop thinking “I did that but I failed” but I’m still going to try. Instead, I’m going to think “I did that and then I reevaluated or reinvented”. Perhaps that’s the key. Perhaps once we stop seeing things as black and white, succeed or fail, we can finally just enjoy the journey. So what if the final destination is so different to our initial expectations? Shouldn’t we just embrace the adventure? I hope so because for all the things I’ve done, I’m still ready for the adventures – and the learning – to continue.

(Note: A hat tip to this post by Jamie Varon for Huffington Post for spurring me on to write about this. I read this article a while ago and re-reading it again today, it resonated more than ever!)

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Donna Brown
Avid reader/audiobook listener, fan of podcasts, prone to the odd Netflix binge. Mum to six crazy and incredible rescue cats. Occasional writer of short stories and poetry.