Paradox of Success

It wasn't until recently, about eight years after graduating from high school, that I finally got over being ashamed of my grades. My class rank was thirteenth out of three hundred something (I think) and my GPA was over 4.0 from all the "gifted" level classes, but I wasn't perfect and it killed me. My closest friends were all in the intensely praised top ten and I was horrified not to be. Eventually I realized that I did damn well for myself. I did this during four years of constant depressive crisis. Holy wow.

No adults knew that I was depressed until the last semester or two of high school when I started breaking down in much more visible ways. When I read about the interventions that kids with mental illness get in school, I wonder what they would have done for me if my school knew how sick I was. Unfortunately, I doubt they would have done anything because I was still doing so well in school. There aren't many things I can think of that would have helped me other than letting me out of classes instead of having panic attacks over them, but I still doubt they would have even considered giving me any sort of help.

Along those lines, I think a lot of mental health care professionals have branded me with borderline personality disorder or malingering because I did still manage to do well in school. Mental illness severity is determined, in part, by how disruptive the symptoms are to one's everyday life and, for students, one easy indicator is school performance. If I have ace school performance but claim to be very very severely ill, that probably looks a little contradictory. A full schedule of successful extra-curricular activities probably didn't help my case. I can see how this might be confusing to a professional initially, as a first impression. But there were many professionals who spent enough time with me to see that schoolwork was a major coping mechanism of mine, that I am a really bad liar, and that every other aspect of my life was in shambles; they should have been open enough to revising their initial impressions of me to figure out that their impression needed revising. My complete and total desperation was seemingly understood as a perverse plea for pity and attention from a mildly depressed, but generally successful, girl. For a very long time there was no professional who was willing to accept my desperation as primary and try to fit in all the successful parts of my life in as secondary details, the rest started with the successes and filled in my expressed desperation as a detail.


  1. I just wanted to comment to say I'm very happy to see you post again on your blog :)

    I can relate to what you say too about being successful in school and nobody really paying you any heed... it's odd too because I thought overachieving was a known "risk factor" and almost a bit of a stereotype.

  2. Thank you. And good point. Even though professionals like to tell me that people with eating disorders are often very intelligent, they also often derided my intelligence and denied it when I challenged them with Facts. (Ooo! Definitions! Scary! Ooo! Concrete physical properties! Grammar! Run!)

  3. Ah you take me right back! Life was so much simpler with concrete, well-defined goals! I was barely hanging on for a few years in there. I remember once I showed up for a test in quantum physics and my brain was so dysfunctional that I couldn't read the test. After about 5 minutes I told my professor that a friend had committed suicide and got a few days to dial up the unhealthy coping mechanisms and pass. I always wondered if anybody else would use that excuse if I died.

    Anyway, I never got so deeply into therapy as you, and I certainly never told the whole truth to a therapist. Were they focusing on positives to try to be encouraging (not underestimating how useless it would be), or was it truly a denial of severity? I guess people didn't understand how bad it was for me either, but I was a good liar when I thought my freedom and schooling might be at risk.

  4. Hi, Jessa. Here's a site you almost certainly know about: http://beyondmeds.com/2012/08/19/spiritual-emergency/. I also picked up a copy of "Rethinking Madness" by Paris Williams but have not begun reading it yet.

    I can understand your frustration with your school and your state of mind and the events you describe make complete sense, unfortunately.

    As always, best wishes to you!