The Bipolar Bum

Backpacking and Bipolar II. Taking Manic Depression on tour.

Dealing with failure and the importance of not manufacturing Kryptonite.

Before I left the U.K I had attempted to rebuild and modify an XS650 motorcycle.  I had no idea how to go about it, or the tools to do the job – but I felt optimistic and excited at the prospect of having a good looking, unique bike of my own, built with my own hands.  A friend and I had become inspired by the idea at the Hotrod Hayride, a custom car and bike rally in the U.K.



I bought the donor bike and began taking everything off of it in preparation for cutting the frame down and welding on a hard-tail extension that I had bought through ebay.  As with any project when you’re high – I leapt into it with all the force I could muster.  Eventually progress slowed down, as inevitably it must, and I became bogged down in fears of doing things incorrectly.  Suddenly I became aware that I didn’t know what I was doing and that I was probably just going to ruin the job.  My confidence abandoned me and thanks to the criticism and open mockery from my now former friend and his father I began to feel terribly negative about the whole project.  I left it alone and just thinking about it left me feeling bereft of confidence, ashamed of my lack of ability and embarrassed by the number of times that various people had told me that I would never finish it.  The fact that they were right made me hate myself and tapped into EVERY other feeling of helplessness and worthlessness that I had ever had.  Before long – just the thought of the project made me feel worthless.


Another friend, who I dare say is probably my closest friend, saw that I was struggling and came to my aid.  He had built bikes before from scratch and offered his expertise and assistance without a moment of reservation.  He tried to encourage and cajole me to further work on the project and, under his careful and kindly support, forward progress was made for a short while.  My friend could only row me so far upriver before his efforts were exhausted and the process became so unbearable for me that we had to speak about it.  He could see that I was having trouble, but couldn’t understand the degree or nuance of the difficulty.


In retrospect – one mistake I made was allowing third parties to criticise and deride me to a point where I took the reigns from them and continued to do so privately in my mind.  I would KNOW that deep down they were right and I was useless.  I would see their grinning faces and hear their jibes over and over, whilst adding my own self-deprecatory dialogue in for good measure.


Eventually, I sold the project on to another friend, who completed it very quickly and very well.  By this point I had stopped speaking to my former friend and his father who had berated me previously, but I still felt the sting of shame that they had been right to ridicule me.  The shame didn’t overshadow completely the relief I felt at having gotten out of the miserable stalemate that the project had become.




Shortly after I arrived my friend gave me a car that had been slightly damaged in an accident to repair and register as my own.  I was elated, excited by the project and extremely grateful for the gift.  Suffice to say that a similar situation as with the bike developed.  I gradually felt more and more out of my depth, some of those old emotions crept back in unchallenged and I became secure in the knowledge that once again, my lack of practicality and know-how would inevitably cause the failure of the project.  I messed up one or two things, which Steve pointed out and showed me the error of.  He never once derided or humiliated me for what was OBVIOUSLY a lack of practical thought processes on my part.  He was supportive and offered the benefit of his experience every step of the way.  Yet my self-assassination continued growing like a pernicious weed in my mind.


I went through a bout of depression brought on by my short Sertraline career and towards the end I was given a deadline of a fortnight to have the car fixed up and off the lot.  I missed this deadline, and I believe due to my illness at the time, I was given a reprieve.  By now, whenever I looked at the car or it was brought up in conversation I felt nauseous, embarrassed and anxious.  So things went.  Progress on the vehicle went at a snail’s pace.  I was even asked by my friend if I wanted to continue with the car because he could see it was upsetting me.  I told him that I had to finish the car because otherwise I would add further strength to the negative emotions I was feeling and it would be even harder to combat later.


I failed once again.  It came to light that I had left the registration of the car too late to get done before I leave Steve and Eileen to move up into my girlfriend’s place.  I couldn’t ask for the car to stay here for yet more time while I went up into the cape and sorted the registration out. I arranged for a scrap metal company to come take the car away.  To say this is why I failed at finishing the project would be untrue.  For months I have felt certain that for one reason or another I would either be unable to finish the project or that in finishing it I would fail to break even or that the car would break down quickly anyway.  The miserable stalemate again.


In short – my old fears and emotions came full circle again and, crippled by fear of the unknown and of my own ineptitude I failed to finish a job.  I feel disappointed, ashamed and embarrassed.  Once again I had told people about the project in an effort to shame myself into finishing the job.  I can only imagine the disappointment that my friend who tried to encourage me with the XS650 will feel when he hears that I failed again.  I remember him saying “Don’t get with that car like you did with the bike.”.  “I won’t” I replied.


I cannot say that I don’t feel relief, however.  As well as feeling bad for all the aforementioned reasons – I also feel relieved that the job isn’t hanging over me.


At some point I will start another project or job and the toxic ball of emotional damage that I’ve created is likely to resurface.  If it does it will be stronger and I will have fewer ways to try to argue logically with the belief that I’m guaranteed to fail.   I have created Kryptonite by allowing negative feelings to metastasise into an experience that no longer needs a logical reason to exist.  It is a wealth of guilt, shame and especially fear – waiting for its time to darken my door again – and it can be lent to any context or situation.


Knowing may be half the battle but when it comes to things like this the other half is far more difficult than the knowing.  I’m not lazy and the feelings around these projects have never been anything to do with the amount of effort involved.  Rather it can be said that when I allow feelings of self-consciousness and of the fear of failure grow from a monkey into a silverback gorilla on my back – I am creating a recipe for failure.  A self-fulfilling prophecy.


Failing as I have is bad but I’ve learned that what is worse is to take the implications of a failure like this and apply them to my entire life, past and future.  I need to learn to let go of these failures as bad experiences, instead of holding onto them as a whip to punish myself with later; as a wire to trip myself with in the future.  I have to learn to be able to say “I have failed” without meaning “I am a failure.”


Does any of this resonate with anyone out there?  Do you have an Achilles heel combination of emotions?  Have you learnt to accept a failure without feeling like a failure and if so – how?  I want to hear from you.


All the best,

17 comments on “Dealing with failure and the importance of not manufacturing Kryptonite.

  1. Tomsk

    I know that feeling. For me it is lesson observations. I’m a teacher and a good one too. The kids I teach love my lessons and all make good progress so I must be doing something right however about a year ago one if my lessons went terribly wrong and I was being observed at the time so my feedback said it was a lesson that ‘required improvement’. I was devastated!

    Determined not to let this happen again the next time I was being observed I planned and planned again yet due to the failure before negative thoughts soon crept in and this observation was also requires improvement. This cycle has continued for a year now and the lessons when I’m being observed are just getting worse and worse. Every time I failed it just confirmed what I was thinking ‘I’m a failure of a teacher’.

    It got to the point where I realised nothing was going to change so I handed my notice in two months ago and got a job in a new school so I could have a fresh start.

    My only worry now is that the thoughts follow me into my new school but I’m determined not to let that happen. The only thing that stops me thinking I’m a failure of a teacher everyday is the smile on the kids faces during my lessons and the fact that they have made so much progress in my class.

    I’m slowly learning to accept these failures as a bad experiences and I really hope this fresh start in September can confirm that those lessons were just bad experiences and do not mean I’m a terrible teacher. Fingers crossed for my first observation in October.

    Liked by 1 person

    • drheckleandmrjibe

      Hey Tom, thanks for taking the time to comment and for sharing your story. That’s one hell of a first comment! Kudos

      Do the people assessing you ALWAYS know better than you, the teacher?? In most industries there is a disconnect between the supervisory staff and the on-the-ground workers.

      All the best,


  2. firejoe3

    You’ve put into words what has always haunted me. If you looked at my life on paper, it would appear to be a pretty good resume’. Firefighter/Paramedic for 18 years, with many letters of accomplishment in my file, as well as more than one daring rescue or life saved under extreme circumstances, Highly sought after guest instructor on fire topics for years; Combat veteran and leader who always graduated at the top of any course I attended, and more importantly, brought everyone of my men home from two different wars. Always picked for the hardest assignments, and succeeded. On and on. Only one problem. I was raised by a father whose lasting wisdom can be summed up with his oft quoted statement “you’re stupid and you don’t know nothing”. you hear that multiple times a day in word or deed, and it becomes your belief system, and you begin to realize you will NEVER be good enough.

    That stuck with me my entire life. though highly successful I’m also highly anxious and depressed. You see, when you BELIEVE this crap, it becomes your mantra, and no matter your success, you are a failure. I graduated at the top of my class not because I was smart, but because everyone else must have been stupid. I succeeded where others failed for any reason in the world except my abilities etc….

    It’s a poison that touches every aspect of my life. Not surprisingly it cost me a marriage and any friends I had. One can be around such negativity for only so long. And just like you expressed, I’m simply waiting for the next failure. No amount of success can change my mind, and the slightest misstep or lack of success grows in dimension till it reinforces what I’ve already known all along.

    trouble is, I KNOW this is a sick and wrong attitude. I know it is self destructive. But I can’t shake it. I truly feel if one day I won a nobel peace prize for something, I’d look around and think, “what? no one else was nominated for this?”

    If I knew how to fix this I would. I’m tired.

    Liked by 2 people

    • drheckleandmrjibe

      I find that there is some of my shame anchored in what I believe my friends and family feel and know about me. As well as my own voice I imagine the effect of my failures would have on my family and friends and in their voices I hear judgement being cast. The ironic thing is that my family and friends have so rarely put anything like judgement to me that the ridiculousness of it is tangible – and still my shame is magnified by hearing these voices and imagining the looks of disappointment on their faces.

      I know that I am my own worst critic and learning to take it easy on myself is difficult. Everytime I hear a criticism that ‘could’ apply to me, I apply it to myself internally. Everytime I take genuine criticism or a real knock – as you’ve said, it reinforces what I already ‘Know’. Anytime I do anything worthy of pride – I explain it away.

      Right now I have a new girlfriend, who only knows of me what I’ve told her and what she sees. She hasn’t grown up with me and she assesses the behaviour I exhibit infront of her, rather than judging my personality based on things I did before my diagnosis. What she is helping me come to realise is that I AM the person infront of her NOW. I’m not my past experiences, I am my present and future experiences.

      It is difficult to not make an enemy of our own futures when we have this kind of poisonous internalised view of ourselves – but it is possible. I catch glimpses of a life when I won’t hate myself and look for the judgement that I feel deserves to be behind everyone’s eyes.

      I’ve come on leaps and bounds since being out in Australia – my friends have helped me more than I believed possible. My girlfriend continues to help me and I her. This is an important penance for me – to help others.

      I’m not sure how to make this logic stick. Andrew Solomon wrote that the first step in preventing and beating depression is to not make a friend of it. I make the same appraisal of this self-assassinating vitriol that we spew at ourselves silently. I’m making a point of not giving self-deprecation air time anymore.

      Thanks very much for coming and sharing your story here Joe. I really appreciate your candid and full reply. I hope you make many more – your experiences and perspectives are invaluable.

      All the best,

      Liked by 1 person

  3. destroythequeen

    I can completely understand FireJoe’s situation, I too was told repeatedly that I am worthless by my father. It becomes your inner dialogue, and something that never leaves you. Any success I’ve had is reduced by saying ‘so and so did better’ or in any other way I can down play my achievements.

    I am so afraid of failure, I’ve stopped trying anything. I was kicked out of university (ironically it wasn’t because I failed, it was a red tape technicality situation) and that has become my go to response ‘…. Yes but I was kicked out of uni’. Especially when other people I know with mental illness graduate valedictorian of one of the top universities here.

    So in short, I don’t try, because I will only fail so what’s the point in trying?


    • drheckleandmrjibe

      The interesting thing is that we know intellectually that this is nonsense. Our FEELINGS and INTUITIONS are very often the things that tell us the opposite. I assess this negative internal talk in the same way that I do my depression – I try to behave as though it is sentient and trying to kill me.

      Our illnesses are illnesses that colour our feelings and intuitions. The mechanics that human beings have come to trust implicitly for their survival and success are the ones that we cannot afford to trust absolutely.

      Somehow there is a way of building circuitry that will circumvent this self-sabotage but I’m not there yet.

      Start small – and be kind to yourself would be my suggestion. You got out of bed today? Great – there are days when some of us can’t. It IS an achievement. It may not be much of an achievement to some people but you’re judging yourself by YOUR standards, not theirs.

      All the best,


      • destroythequeen

        I’ve been told that I can change this inner dialogue, the negative talk. I can change the way I think. And I’m trying, I’m really trying, but I’m not there yet.

        Interestingly there ARE days where I can’t get out of bed, so yes that can be an achievement. Thanks for the kind words. It helps to know that others are in the same boat.


  4. Susan Irene Fox

    Oh, this sounds so familiar! My nemesis is finances. While I did manage to extricate myself out of substantial debt several years ago, I now live on permanent disability. I have a meager lifestyle which doesn’t bother me, and have no debt and no credit cards at all – strictly cash. However, I always seem to be left with no money at the end of the month, and never have any savings. I just can never seem to manage my monthly finances.

    I’ve earned two master’s degrees, so it’s not like I’m an idiot but I always feel completely ashamed of myself for making the same mistakes over and over again. I’ve taken classes in money management, but it just all seems to go in one ear and out the other. And I always hear my father’s voice as a child telling me how stupid I am – I can’t seem to get that out of my head. I run out of money for groceries halfway through the month, and fear I won’t have enough to cover my medication.

    It’s more frustrating because I’ve also come up against identify theft on my credit report that years old. Tried to fight it for two years, but frankly don’t have the energy any more. So I deride myself for sounding like a victim when I feel like I should be taking responsibility for my financial situation…and on and on and on.

    Like the rest of you, it’s mentally and physically exhausting. So I guess the bottom line is, in that part of my life, when I segment it, I feel like a failure. If I took that part out of my life, I wouldn’t so much feel like a failure. If I could view that IN PERSPECTIVE with everything else – writing, relationships, etc…, I think I would be able to say that I’m simply incompetent at money management and need professional help. Sort of like, I’m incompetent at car maintenance. I mean, I’m not ashamed to say that! I don’t consider that I’m a failure at that! I think it’s because I compare myself to other people who I think are “normal.” That’s when the shame appears, and I label myself a failure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • drheckleandmrjibe

      I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Comparing ourselves to other people who are not necessarily experiencing the same level of difficulty as us to do simple things is a mistake. It is essentially the crux of what stigma is, and we’re building it up to collapse on our own heads.

      I will say, however, that you have no credit cards and no debt – You’re ahead of the vast majority of ‘normal’ healthy people in the UK. Food for thought.

      All the best,


  5. onedepressedmama

    “I have created Kryptonite by allowing negative feelings to metastasise into an experience that no longer needs a logical reason to exist.”

    This sentence is so powerful for me. I need to chew on it for a while so that I can squeeze every bit of insight out of it. :) I know it connects with my life – I just can’t put it into words quite yet.

    I’m definitely of the school of thought that “I have failed” equals “I am a failure.” I tried to think of big projects to give as examples but came up empty handed. The reason, I think, is that I’m too afraid to tackle anything big. My fear of failure is so great, and the subsequent hit to my self-worth so intense, that I just don’t try anything big. Except…as I write this…there’s this whole parenting gig. Right now that’s where most of my fears of failure are centered. I’m terrified of failing as a parent. Terrified of ruining my children.

    Whew. So I guess I have a big project example after all. :) Each parenting mistake in my mind turns into “I’m a horrible mother.” And that feeling isn’t at all proportional to the size of the original failure – they’re all major.

    I’m working through all of this, but of course it’s slow-going. I’m hoping to get rid of this “horrible mother” identity sooner rather than later – while my kids are still young.

    Liked by 1 person

    • drheckleandmrjibe

      Simply put – you’re in charge of your children’s care. If you’re a bad mother or an amazing mother, you’re not going to go out of your way to change the arrangement. In short (As a son who loves his mother who has struggled sometimes and confessed that she wanted us to have more) – We love you for the effort, not the results.

      Generally the people who are capable of FEARING “Being a horrible mother” are incapable of actually being the thing they fear.

      All the best,


      • onedepressedmama

        I like your last point. Sometimes the fear itself causes me a great deal of insecurity – but as someone else commented to me, sometimes I need to follow my heart. Too bad I’m much better at following my brain, even if it gets me in trouble. :)

        Liked by 1 person

  6. philosophoenix

    You know, I do not have many of the hurdles to overcome that you do, and yet, I understand many of the emotional states you’ve related. I think that’s very much a human thing, to get bogged down by fears and frustrations, especially when we don’t take time to arm ourselves with the skills and tools essential to a task. We are seduced by the outcome, the future vision, but have no grasp of all the steps we’ll have to take to get there.

    As well, sometimes, whether people around us are positive or negative, we surrender to our demons–fear, frustration, a sense of inadequacy. I can only imagine how much more challenging the emotional labyrinths must be to navigate in the presence of a condition that intensifies natural highs and lows to such extremes. But at least you get in there and try. I can speak for those of us who’ve surrendered to fear of failure and don’t even have any half finished projects to show for our time here. I never even began, because I was afraid I wouldn’t be perfect, wouldn’t live up to my own expectations.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. drheckleandmrjibe

    Thanks for taking the time to reply here.

    ” I think that’s very much a human thing, to get bogged down by fears and frustrations, especially when we don’t take time to arm ourselves with the skills and tools essential to a task. We are seduced by the outcome, the future vision, but have no grasp of all the steps we’ll have to take to get there. ”

    Truer words were never spoken. I’ve got nothing to add.

    All the best,


  8. Sharon Alison Butt

    Thank you H for sharing this very emotional story. I have not had chance to read anyone else’s comments but I am sure that people have encouraged you and tried to assure you that you are definately NOT a failure at all.

    People who TRY are to be admired not mocked. You at least attempted what you thought you could do. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s obvious that you are a hard-working man blessed with lots of ideas and creativity – who cares if you are left with 20 screws and 14 bolts after you’ve tried to put a bike together? I am proud of you for picking up your tools and trying and you are not less of a man for not being able to succeed in finishing it.

    People who mock and critisize others are the true failures because we were created to support one another. The tongue is such a small member of the body yet it has power to destroy. With our words we have the choice to either build up or tear down.

    Most people who mock and throw out negative words at others are just reflecting the darkness in their own hearts. Seeing someone fall or fail makes them feel better because they are inadequate themselves.

    You are very right in referring to your mockers as ‘former’ friends. You have the wisdom to realise what a true friend is and I’m glad you pulled away from them. Nobody needs people like that in their life.

    Know that you were created for a special purpose but the enemy of your soul will use every tactic he can muster to try to deter, or disilliusion you from fulfilling that purpose.

    God made your mind RIGHT. You are not a mistake and you have talents in you that only you can use. Millions of people would be happy to watch you put a bike together, with your passion and zeal and if even you got stuck, they wouldn’t mock, but admire how far you got.

    Look at the statistics of all the inventors, book writers and scientists. Wasn’t it the light bulb man who made hundreds of attempts before electricity finally worked? And what about films like Gone With The Wind that was rejected by producers many many times before it was a box office hit. All through history people have been shunned and discouraged from persuing their dream by being told, “It’s not ya thing.”

    I am so glad you landed in Australia and persevered in the thing you love and are SKILLED to do.

    People have tried to define you by their own opinions.

    My wish for you is that those negative voices will be silenced forever so that you will hear a shout above the noise. This shout comes from your creator, who knew what he was doing when he made you and does not make mistakes. He formed you while you were in your mother’s tummy and put your brain together to work in ways that sometimes makes others jealous.

    He sings songs of love over you and knows that with his help, you can do all things.

    Talk to those prattling voices and tell them that they can no longer take up residence in your mind.

    You are sane, clever, skilled, creative, wise, compassionate, hard working, and worthy of the admiration of all of us on here who know you are a success and we need you. Your life is worth something to us and we are very thankful that we stumbled across such a lovely person.


    • drheckleandmrjibe

      Thank you very, very much for the contribution and extremely kind words!

      We’re not to be reconciled on the subject of God, as I am a firm unbeliever but I appreciate hugely the sentiment of your comment.

      For my part – I have to accept when I’m obviously not very skilled in a certain direction. I don’t have any heavy mechanical leanings – my intuition doesn’t correspond well with engineering issues or machinery.

      The realism of this helps me remain confident that I may yet find something (or realise something already found) to which my intuition and natural proclivities strongly apply.

      Thanks again for the contribution!

      All the best,


      • Sharon Alison Butt

        You’re most very welcome H&J. I’m glad you understood that my heart was to encourage you. Don’t worry about the God thing. It doesn’t matter that we differ on opinion. That’s the beauty of WordPress – everyone is free to believe what they like and talk about it. Hopefully there will be no-one trying to shove beliefs down your throat, as that would be awful. Half the world is at war with the other half on the subject of ‘religion’. So you’re safe with me coz it’s not my intention to preach at anybody.

        I’m not surprised to hear of your firm unbeliefs. The things people go through in life can make them feel strongly one way or the other and nasty people often serve to deepen our convictions that there cannot be a loving God out there.

        I do think that Christians need to apologise to the unbelieving for the part they have played in helping people to come to the conclusion that he doesn’t exist. Over the centuries, we have been the hypocrites & judgemental and plain evil, while reciting the Lord’s Prayer at the same time. I have reflected on this on my page entitled, “A Touch Of Perfection”, but you don’t have to read it.

        Anyway, I hope to get to know you better throughout the coming months and that I will be open-minded to the things others have to say and their experiences which make up who they are today.

        I am so pleased that you have many wonderful people supporting you and cheering you on as you battle to overcome or live with this condition.

        Thank you once again for being ‘out there’ so that we can share in your joys and pains and angers etc.
        Kind regards,


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This entry was posted on 28/06/2014 by in Self Analysis and tagged , , , , , , , .
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