Our own persona mill stones — not being good enough for ourselves
I used to hate getting asked what my proudest achievement was, because for a long time the personal answer was simply getting thus far, being alive to appreciate the moment. In a job interview that was hard to articulate, as they probably want to hear about milestones and adventures, but as a suicide survivor and trans woman I could hardly say that simply being alive was one hell of a milestone in and of itself. I am utterly matter-of-fact about by mental health if asked, and I learnt sharp lessons about not being candid in interviews, so there is not shame in talking. Yet, my personal mill stone is very much the fact that I never feel good enough for myself. In the race of life, if I am my only competitor then how can I ever settle for good enough? That has haunted me for such a long time, and to this day it catches up with me in the long nights and rainy days.
We don’t talk about the long nights of the soul, because to do so almost feels like over sharing, to a point where the burden is not shared, but a sense of guilt for merely telling it sits deep within the pits of our stomachs. It catches in the throat, words that say that I am simply not good enough, that I can never be adequate to my own personal standards. No matter what I do or say, no matter how high I climb or what grades I achieve I can always do better. Not compared to the others, but compared to myself. That mill stone drags me back time and time again, raking back towards the depression circling low and ready to pounce. How do I tell you that all power to you in the things you do, yet for me there is always one more inch I can go, one more extra mile.
My transition was never a competition with anyone else. I was extremely lucky that aside from my voice I could glide through the world, though that may have been from tough grit or bloody mindedness. The mirror was always my friend, though with a certain viscous glee I could tear a strip off myself for not living up to my own mental image of myself. Too fat, too broad, to masculine. Not good enough. There are pinch points and scars and all the lines of living that highlight a life well lived, and it took me all of my twenties to come to terms with that. My body is good enough for me, but my youth never got that message. It is only as middle age creeps up on me that my gendered body, shorn of hair, finally sits with a degree of comfort on my bones. My race with myself in now only to the gym, not wrestling with any inner dysphoric demons.
How we cope with these millstones is only for our inner selves. No-one has the right to know who or what you are inside, and the only person you ultimately have to salve is yourself. Each of us has to measure up to the person we wish to be, either in comparison to the people surrounding us or an idealised form that we cast onto our existence. We yearn for this idealised perfection, hoping and wishing to get to this form so we can find a quintessence of happiness.
Truth be told, happiness is always relative, and the moments we search for are often found in the small places hidden in plain sight. For me, the most serene moment of my lift was waking up from my gender re-assignment surgery in Thailand, tranquillity base in every sense of the word; maybe it was the drugs, but I felt completely at one with myself, no anxiety or confliction. Yes, I was highly privileged to be in that position, but it was a capstone on so much that had gone before. Eight years of not being good enough for myself suddenly lifted off me, and for a few hours I was one with myself. Hardly the thing that I could publicly say was my proudest achievement, but it got the monkey off my back for a while.
I took me ten years, a foundation degree and a BSc to got me back to that sense of inner peace. Getting a First was not quite the same high as a morphine drip, but it was probably the proudest I have ever been of a personal accomplishment. It is hard to describe, both knowing that I achieved my personal goal, and then trying desperate hard to be supportive of my friends and classmates with their grades. My mill stone whittled away, cast aside for a few months as I realised that I had done something that I was personally proud of. That is the thing I can now say in interviews, the public face to a twenty year plus battle to actually be good enough for myself.
Today I sit on the cusp of a PhD, four more years of studying ahead. That familiar anxiety is creeping back in, am I good enough, can I do this, will I achieve the things I want to do. I have two clear personal milestones in my pocket that I can hold on to when the depression sings its claws into me, two bastions that will serve as a shield. I know I am incredibly luck to get this far in my education and transition, both only possible with the incredible support of the people around me. I am not an island, I am very much part of a wider community, and if I ever need reminding that my impact on the world is a net positive I only need look around and see it. I may not be good enough for myself at time, but I can see my personal good reflected in the actions I do for others. Sometimes that is enough, most of the time it is enough, and when it is not I have an inner fortitude hewn from the hard knocks I have taken along the way. Now, I no longer fear getting asked what my proudest achievement is, because surviving thus far is a capstone on my proudest moments.