While the mind is plagued with darkness thoughts become distorted. In college, when I got a lower than normal grade on a test my heart plummeted. I automatically thought I was a failure. Getting a good grade made me feel like a winner. There was no in between.
Receiving a low grade made tears threaten to spill and my chest tightened. “I’m a looser”, sang through my mind. “They were right about me in high school; I’m a retard. I don’t belong in college.” The more my negative thoughts filled my mind the further down the whole I fell. When I got a good grade I was flying high. There was no excuse in my mind for a less than a high grade. I had to get a A or B to be worthy, any lower I felt like my world was going to end.
When I was unable to get the degree I wanted in college (due to my learning disability)I felt like a looser. I thought going to a four year college and getting a good paying job would make me a winner. Instead I became a cashier and once again I thought I was a failure. Even though I worked hard to prove myself in high school and then in college, I couldn’t even get a communication degree. Instead of going on to a four year college, all I could do was work in a grocery store. I was sure I failed. I believed I proved everyone right; I was a retard who couldn’t do anything right.
I learned in therapy that this type of thinking was “all-or-nothing thinking.” The book Feeling Good The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns, M.D. describes it as seeing everything as black or white–shades of gray do not exist. In other words, I saw myself either as a winner or a failure. I couldn’t see the other good things in my life; like I graduated from college, I had stories published, and I was working a job despite my illness.
My therapist taught me I didn’t need a high paying job, or a degree in communications to be successful. I learned not everything goes the way I plan and that does not make me a failure, but human. I realized I didn’t need to be perfect to still be a winner.
In life there are gray periods where we don’t always come out on top. We are not always perfect. It took me a while to believe this. I no longer have to prove myself, because I already have. No one in high school believed I’d even make it to college, let alone get a degree and I have a associate degree in Humanities. Someone once told me because I have a mental illness, I couldn’t work and yet I have been working the same job for 19 years.
Sometimes I still fall into the all-or-nothing thinking, but I have a wonderful husband who reminds me I don’t have to be perfect to be a winner. I now know there is a gray spot in our lives, but it is only a part of life.