Does a Mental Illness Disqualify Me From Being a Success?

“What the hell was success anyway?”

I was drained physically. Mentally, I felt numb and lethargic and was still not any closer to figuring out what I was going to do.

I was 43 years old, sitting in my dirty one-bedroom, exhausted from days of no sleep.

I’d hit a roadblock, no, a wall, and I wasn’t going to be able to go on another day without figuring out what I was going to do.

It had been a long road.

I knew there was something different about me since I could walk, and I had been dealing with the fallout of being an outcast in a world that celebrated “normal” my whole life. I’d destroyed relationships along the way and sabotaged every career I’d every had with the help of my nasty little mental illness. I’d talked myself out of success so many times I now longer had fingers to count on.

“What was success to me?”

I was trying to figure out a path for the next ten years, knowing the last had been a complete and utter failure.

I had a choice in front of me: stay in my grungy little apartment and do things the way I had been doing them all along, or make a drastic change, a symbolic change, and move to the other side of the globe, to the Philippines.

You see, there was a girl — wasn’t there always? But she represented more than love and comfort to me, she was change, pure and simple. Her life whispered of exotic beaches and faraway lands I’d only dreamed of visiting. Her life spoke to me because it was so different from mine.

I needed the drastic to shock my system and push me from the comfort zone and I finally figured out that success meant constant change and improvement.

That was ten years ago — a decade of my precious life.

Right out of the gate, I failed because I moved to the Philippines, but kept doing things the same way I had before. I made mistakes. I didn’t tell my future wife just how mentally ill I was, and she wasn’t never able to feel like she had any other choice but to take care of me.

I dropped my 360-pound ass in another country, and opened my 500-pound suitcase of baggage on a poor unsuspecting woman. The first few years were tough and there were times when I didn’t think we would make it. A few years in, I tried to kill myself, but instead of making things worse, it was the impetus I needed to finally change my life.

I promised myself from the day I stepped out of the mental ward that I was going to improve a little each day.

At first, I tried too much. I went back to college, but the pressure exerted by psychosis and depression caused me to crash, and I ended up dropping out again.

But, I took it in stride.

I started writing again. At first, all I could manage were short, angst-ridden blog posts, but they were a start. I wrote every day and made it a habit, until I felt like I should take it to the next step. I started picking up small ghostwriting jobs here and there. But, I ended up trying to do too much too soon and gave that up.

Then I found Medium.com. The promise was simple. I could write and publish, and potentially make money from my work. I could set my own schedule. I could rest when the voices where raging, and work when I could focus.

I published for three years. I worked on 100 different projects and failed at all of them. As a dilettante, a multipotentialite, the last barrier besides my angry mind was my tendency to start something and not finish.

I started everything on fire, but soon lost interest in everything I tried.

The only thing I kept doing was writing and publishing on Medium. Unfortunately, I never found that “secret sauce” of success on the platform, and although I had moderate success, I never could build it up to be my main source of income.

I was close to finding the secrets to finding my version of success, so I took stock:

  • I had worked so hard on my mental health, that now, despite feeling terrible most of the time, I had pushed back on the psychosis, depression, and anxiety and carved out a life for myself. I was still not well, and may never be, but I could work, and I could survive, so that was something.
  • I figured out that the single thing I loved to do, the thing I lived for was writing. I had also gathered a number of skills along the way, and I knew I needed to somehow put it all together and make a career out of it.
  • I had vast experience with writing, digital marketing, WordPress development, and SEO, and if I was smart, I could put it all together and make something out of it. I decided to go back to college, because one constant over the years for me was desiring a degree, and I knew with a little formal training, backed by that mystical piece of paper to hang on the wall, I could go far.
  • I decided to pick two niches, or areas I wanted to focus on initially. One was going to have to be mental health, because if my life were to mean something, I needed to share my experience with others. The other niche was cannabis, in short, because I knew how powerful it was when I was able to use it in the US to treat my illness, and because it had such a huge impact on my life. And now that it is close to being federally decriminalized, I wanted to be one of the voices of the new industry that would come out of prohibition and the filthy illegal war on drugs.
  • I knew if I was to accomplishing anything, I would have to finally decide once and for all that this is what I was going to do, for at least the next ten years. There was no losing interest, no room for failure. I decided what I was going to do, and now I am figuring out how to do it.

The Next Ten Years

My illness batters me every day and fights for control. I didn’t manage to do anything today until I was able to get my mind to focus. Voices were chattering in the background, and my depression was telling me that I was hopeless and nothing was worth having to put up with this kind of pain.

I know I am going to have to deal with this kind of thing for the rest of my life, but I am determined to thrive financially and be a success in life despite the bad.

I’ve been busy doing cold pitches and have generated enough work to keep myself busy and in the black for the next few months. I applied to be a staff writer for a well-known cannabis magazine, and hope that comes to fruition because it is an intersection of everything I want to be doing right now.

I start on my degree again in October, and decided to major in marketing, because I want to bring that knowledge and my past experience to bear in the legal cannabis industry and help companies and customers find each other in a crowded marketplace.

I am going to be busy for the next ten years. And maybe at the end of the ten years, I may find myself at a different place that where I started, but I know it will be a better place.

In a few months, I will leave my beloved place of healing, the Philippines, and dive back into life in the fast lane. In order for me to be successful, I need to leave my comfort zone, because too much comfort only makes a person lazy and more willing to settle for keeping things the way they are right now.

I want more. And I won’t be happy until I have it all.

So, if you ask me if a person with a mental illness can me successful, I would say yes. But they have to be willing to put in the hard work and not be a victim, and they have to accept drastic change in their lives and make a part of who they are.

Life is about change, and being mentally ill doesn’t make you any different from anyone else.

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