Is depression spurring on my overachieving, or would I be an overachiever without depression?
That’s what I am grappling with today. Understanding where this need to do is coming from, I am looking at all possibilities. I cannot remember a time where I didn’t feel the need to be productive. As far back as I can remember, I have always had a list of things I wanted to do.
I had my first job before I was ten years old.
OK, so I fibbed and said I was ten, even though my birthday wasn’t for a few months. Getting a job was the only way I saw I could achieve my goal of owning model rockets. So, in my mind, telling a little white lie was justified. Besides, I was very responsible, even at age 9 and I knew I could be trusted to do a good job.
My interest in rockets was because my Dad worked for NASA,. He brought home ideas about space flight that I found fascinating. But I was too proud to ask for money to buy the rockets. So instead of asking Mom and Dad for the money, I got a job delivering a weekly paper. This paid for my first rocket along with multiple engines to launch it.
When I was ten, I landed an additional job as a caddie at the nearby country club.
We were not members, but that was not a condition of employment. I would earn $4 carrying a member’s golf clubs, plus they would buy me a soda and a snickers bar after the first nine. If I worked both weekend days, I would have $8 in my pocket on Monday. Not bad for a ten-year-old in 1965. Then I would figure out a time when Mom was going shopping and get her to take me to the Hobby Shop.
It turns out I have been driving myself to achieve for 55 years.
I came across an article about overachievers. It doesn’t speak to my question, but it does give an analysis of what constitutes an overachiever. The author also explores the difference between a high-achiever and an overachiever.
- Push, push, push
- Time Urgency
- Product over Process
- Failure Phobic
- Eager to Please
Reading the list and the explanations for each sign, I can identify with over ½ of them.
Guilt is the one that resonates the most with me.
Many overachievers report feeling guilty, empty, or directionless if they are not working on something. If you try and force an hour or day “off” an overachiever will quickly fill it with a series of useful tasks or chores.
I have trouble sitting and watching an hour TV show, even without the commercials.
My guilt for not “doing something” makes just sitting awfully hard. Sharing what I have planned for a day off from work, people are shocked with how much I plan to do. Yet for me, it doesn’t seem like enough. If I were cleverer, I could fit more into the day. I could get more accomplished.
In the hospital, I was asked by the head Psychiatrist, “when is enough, enough?”
At the time, it was hard to see the logic in what he was asking. Doesn’t everyone want to get things done? I was sure everyone carried around a laundry list of things to accomplish, to finish, to check off the list. Understanding the thought behind that question didn’t come to me until much later.
I have tried to be more in the moment, absorbing what is happening.
There are times when I can sit, without guilt, for 10 to 20 minutes on the front porch, just looking at the mountains and the wildlife surrounding our home. Slowly, I am adding these moments to other parts of my life. Speaking to strangers at work, I have found that some people just want to talk for a minute. In the past, I would cut them off as soon as I could, to get the next customer serviced.
Now I often stop, listen, and hear what they are saying.
I am amazed what people will tell you when you are genuinely engaged in the conversation. I have learned about people’s grandchildren, pets, medical procedures, and a myriad of other interesting tidbits. It only took a minute to engage them and did not cause the universe to explode violently.
They leave me with a better understanding of how people live their lives and what is important to them.
So, does depression play a role in my overachieving? I found a scholarly article titled, Overachievement and coping strategies in adolescent males. It speaks to how overachieving can be tempered by using coping strategies. I discovered coping strategies early on as I explored depression. Using coping strategies, my life has become less complicated.
In the end, it is not the event, it is my attitude towards it.
Coping strategies give me a way to reframe what I am thinking. Doing so, I stay away from unhelpful thinking, one of depression’s most beloved tools. Depression uses all ten unhelpful thinking styles to upset coping strategies. Being aware of their existence was the first step to making better decisions.
Once again, I am thankful that I have turned and faced my depression.
More research is needed on the subject. It is clear I have used overachieving to stay away from my feelings. Being a reporter, I record the facts. I have not been a writer that expresses my feelings about situations.
Depression wants me in a place where I feel nothing.
Being up against the wall, there is no feeling of a way forward. When circling the drain, my feelings are washed away, leaving just an emptiness, a void. And at the bottom of the abyss, only darkness remains. Nothing is visible. It takes all my energy just to survive until the end of the day.
Historically, as soon as I could after each depressive episode, I would be off on a new set of goals, projects, certifications.
Anything to keep me busy, to keep me away from depression. This see-saw was my life for close to 50 years. Always just one more class, one more plant in the garden, or one more promotion. The list goes on and on.
The question becomes, am I an overachiever because I have depression, or is depression a reason for my overachieving?
I will continue to explore this. The answer doesn’t seem very simple. Understanding my realtionship with depression , in all it’s forms, will help me lead a more balanced life with depression.