When I’m facing bouts of depression and anxiety, sometimes it’s hard to see things outside myself. And if I’m spiraling, it becomes almost impossible. If all you’re trying to do is hold on and survive the next minute, hour or day, it’s easy to forget that you aren’t the only one going through this. But as statistics show, you are not even close to being the only one. But I’m different, I would tell myself. No one is suffering in the same way I am. And I know why I thought that so much when I first faced depression. Even now, years later, there are still moments where that’s in the back of my head when I’m in a tough spot. I never viewed myself as a person just like everyone else, so the way I spoke to myself was extremely terrible (it’s still not great now, but it used to be much worse).
I know that headline might make you pause, but I’m trying to be as honest as I can. I believe in self-care and I would really like to implement it more into my life. But after doing some scouring of the Internet to get to the root of what this buzzword means, I was left feeling a little empty.
Yesterday I missed an appointment with my psychiatrist. I got stuck in a meeting at work and by the time I reached the doctor’s office, I was too late. It’s easy (and obvious) to see why something like that would cause me stress. Heck, it would cause anyone stress. But while I was waiting to reschedule my appointment (to today, thankfully not too long!), I got rid of the stress. Or rather, the stress got rid of me.
It’s safe to say that life is pretty stressful. Every day brings its own challenges and decisions to make, and every single one of them can affect how the rest of your day goes. It’s enough to make anyone a little overwhelmed on a day-to-day basis. But what if those decisions weren’t such a big deal? What if everything wasn’t some huge decision. What if a choice was just a choice?
I’m sure a lot of you already know where I’m going with this – long story short, s*&% happens – but you might not know why, and why it’s so much easier said than done. I have a difficult time accepting when things don’t go according to plan. It’s not because I’m a perfectionist, though; rather, it has to do with how I view myself.
As I’ve said before, I don’t like myself very much. And so when I mess up, I assume people don’t like me because of it. Why? Because I don’t like me because of it, so I assume people must not like me either.
But that’s ridiculous, right? In my experience, few people get that upset when mistakes are made every once in a while. It gets more frustrating when it happens on a more common basis but for the most part, people forgive an innocent mistake. But I don’t see it as a mistake – I see it as a character flaw in myself.
Now we could talk all day long about why I view myself that way, but I think the more productive path would be to discuss the things I remembered that reminded me that it’s going to be okay:
- It’s going to be okay
- It’s not the end of the world
- Your life will go on
- These things happen
- It will work itself out
Now I hope in a future blog post I will be able to elaborate on these but for now, I’ll just say this: it’s one thing to say these things to yourself to make yourself feel better; it’s another thing to believe, really believe them.
I’m not saying I fully believe in any of those things in the long term. But I believed them today, and at that moment, and that was enough. That method of thinking got me through that moment and on to the next and got me to continue on with my day and my life. When you’re feeling stressed out I would take that phrase – s*&% happens – and add two more words to it. Stuff happens to everyone. We all go through it, and that’s one of the common experiences we have as humans. So maybe you made a mistake today. Maybe something went wrong. Do you need any more proof of your humanity than that?
On Tuesday I talked about how difficult it is for me to accept a compliment. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that the main reason I can’t really accept a compliment is that I don’t think all that highly of myself. However, despite this, I have gotten increasingly better at accepting compliments from people. How do I do it? Well, I’ve come up with a few strategies that help me not get sidetracked when someone has something nice to say. Here are some of my favorites:
Guilt almost ate me alive last week – I’ll explain. I didn’t wake up on time for work and was about an hour and a half late.
That’s it! That’s all that happened. It wasn’t fatal to my job, and I got all my work done that day. But I felt very guilty about it. And it took much longer than it should have to make that guilt go away.
Why did I feel guilty? A more accurate question would be why did I not feel guilty? I felt like a bad employee and that I let my team down, which consequently led me to think about the worst-case scenario of the ramifications of my actions. I felt lazy and unreliable and perceived my lateness as a character flaw. I didn’t look at being late as a rare occurrence but as an indicator of who I am as a person. Is that true? As I came to realize, it is not, and that is not who I am.
I’m sharing this because I know I’m not alone in this experience. Guilt plays a much bigger role in our lives than I’m sure we want – at least, it does it mine. If guilt doesn’t affect you, please let me know how you’re able to exist in this way because I am all ears on that topic.
But let’s say you’re like me, and feelings of guilt are hard to get rid of. How do you get rid of them? I came up with three things I continued to repeat to myself until my guilt subsides.
This is not who you are – you are more than this
This is my favorite of the three things because, as I wrote earlier, my guilt comes from the fact that I believe my mistakes – even if I only make them once – are all character flaws. Reminding myself that there’s so much more to me than what I feel guilty about is a reminder that I am a complex person who is not defined by any one thing – good or bad.
Is it really that bad?
I’ll be honest; sometimes the answer to this question is ‘yes.’ Sometimes we do things that are just as bad as we make them out to be. But the reality is that our guilt permits us to make things out to be much worse than they are. Was being late to work one time, after not being that late all year, really all that bad? In the grand scheme of things, maybe not.
Who does this effect?
Another way my guilt becomes exacerbated is that I think that so many people will suffer from my mistakes. Did I miss a meeting when I was late? No. Did someone need me during the time I was missing? They did not. In reality, this situation affected me and my boss, who was wondering where I was, and no one else. The office didn’t come to a halt; people moved on with their day. Sometimes our guilt can make us think that our mistakes are the end of the world – oftentimes, the opposite is true. Most of my mistakes only affect me, if I’m being honest. That minimizes the impact of my mistake and gives me a good perspective to look from.
I don’t have all the answers. I continue to feel guilty about plenty of things – mistakes or not. But taking steps to assuage your guilt and remind yourself of who you really are, and that you’re more than one or two bad choices, is key to overcoming the debilitation that guilt can produce.
What’s something silly that you’ve felt guilty about? I want to know!
I’ve said it before: I’m not sorry about my mental illness. It’s a part of my life, it’s a part of who I am, and it influences a lot of what I do. But it’s not the only thing about me.
I have a story. We all do. From when we were born until right this minute, your story’s being told. There are tons of things that make up your story. Where you grew up. The friends you’ve made. The family you have. Your hobbies and interests. Your job. Everything and anything can make up your story – whether you want it to or not.
Today isn’t about my story – it’s about encouraging you to tell yours. How this looks is different for everyone. For instance, I’m a writer so this is how I’ve chosen to share my story. I also write creatively, which contains part of my story as well. Some people find it in other forms like photography, art or music. You can find it in things like yoga or meditation, or push yourself to the brink physically by competing in marathons and other physical activities. There’s really no limit as to how your story can be told – what’s important is that you own it.
What does it mean to own your story? It means that you are not – and should not be – ashamed of it. It means that if someone questions it that’s their problem, not yours. It means that you should be unapologetically yourself because it’s who you are – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
It’s taken my awhile to own my story. If I’m being honest, I can’t say that I’m even completely there. I got in my own head and got in my own way, and that made it difficult to own up to who I am and what kind of person I am. But I’m doing my best, and it’s made me better. There is a special power in owning your story – in not shying away from who you are. When you own your story, it’s hard for people to hurt you with it.
I will not shy away from who I am. That includes all parts of me – scars and all. We shouldn’t claim to be perfect and without flaws, but we also should not be ashamed of being flawed – it’s led us to where we are today. And while I might not be where I want to be, I’m proud of where I am, and I hope you are too.
Owning my story has been a big step in my personal growth, but I had to get through plenty of mental setbacks before getting there. What’s stopping you from owning your story? If it helps for me to share more, I’d be happy to!
As I mentioned last week, I’m back in therapy. This decision didn’t come easy – it’s been almost two years since I’ve routinely gone to therapy. But I’m a different person than I was two years ago, with different goals. This time, I’m prioritizing self-improvement over self-love. Let me explain.
A common symptom of depression is not liking yourself very much. It sucks, but it’s true. On top of everything else depression threw at me, this was the thing I had the hardest time dealing with early on. I couldn’t stand the fact that I hated myself. I read book after book on loving yourself, learning to like who you are and accepting yourself as a human being. And it didn’t do squat for me.
When I used to go to therapy, I would obsess over this fact: how do I learn to love myself? This ever-present worry surrounded me and got in the way of any self-improvement. I was so fixated that the concept of ‘loving myself’ became foreign to me; I wasn’t sure what ‘loving me’ even meant.
This isn’t to say that those therapy sessions were fruitless. They helped me explore my mental health in a way I had never done before. But my own self-improvement, as a topic, was never on the table. I thought that I had to rid myself of my mental illness instead of living with it. But why does it have to be that way?
It’s taken me a very long time to realize, but I finally want to focus on improving myself in other areas. For instance, I have a tendency to be late for things and I have problems waking up in the morning. I used to chalk up some of these flaws as part of my mental illness, but I’m tired of that. I’m wary of when I use my anxiety and depression as a reason for not getting something done. I won’t lie, it bothers me sometimes. By attacking other aspects of myself, I am able to become a more complete version of myself – mental illness and all.
This has also changed my perception of who therapy can benefit. Like many people, I believed that only those who were mentally ill, who truly ‘needed’ help, needed to go. That’s why I went, right? Not anymore. Therapy is anything that helps you become a better version of yourself. And when I say anything, I mean anything. Exercising, yoga, meditation, writing in a journal..the list goes on and on. And yes, actually talking with a therapist is also a form of therapy.
I’ve been searching for ways to become the best version of myself, to learn how to live mentally well. I think talking with a therapist will help in that goal, so that’s what I’m going to do. But I also know that’s not the only path to self-improvement – there are many other things we can do. But it starts with us. And this time around in therapy, that’s finally something that I understand.
What is your favorite form of therapy? Let me know in the comments!