“Why is it,” I asked myself first thing in the morning, “that I can’t support my family by doing what I love?” To which my depressive brain, always ready with a snarky retort, would respond with something like “It must be because you’re terrible. You’re a failure and you should give up.” An astute observer might note that this is a great example of All Or Nothing Thinking. I will note that it often runs my show. I start the gambit early and will likely repeat the call-response at least thirteen times a day.
What I have previously not admitted, is that I am honestly not sure what I would do without this voice in my head. Ideally, I would be more productive, but I can’t help but think I would also feel as though I lost a friend.
First, please know that I am not sharing this to have someone to come and tell me that I am ok and am kind and worthy. I’ve done enough years of therapy to know that those kinds of affirmations need to be learned firsthand, without needing to rely on others to confirm them. I am sharing because I am sure many out there have similar thoughts and I want them to know they are not alone. If you are not one of those people, I want to emphasize how cyclical and self-fulling such thoughts are, so that you understand why it’s not possible to just stop them. Having depression, experiencing these and many other symptoms every minute you are awake means you can’t just be cheered up. You can’t take a walk and feel better. You’ll just be a depressed person on a walk. That being said…
I have had therapists remind me that unless I wanted progress, nothing about my condition would ever change. Well, I certainly didn’t want to continue feeling endless despair and see nothing but darkness ahead, so I felt taken aback. “You think I want this? Who’s the one who needs therapy here?” I would fume as the thoughts filled my mind. But then again, why was it just seemed like no matter the work I did, Depression persisted.
If I am completely honest, I kind of thought that once I had gathered the courage to talk about my feelings with a stranger, that would be all I needed. That was the work. Sitting across the room from a therapist and reliving my nightmares was not easy. How could it that not be enough? After all, the analogy works for most other doctors. When I have sinus issues, I see my doctor, take a decongestant, maybe an antibiotic, and call it a day. The nose doesn’t have a say in not being congested, and the problem diminishes. Our minds are a bit more complex, however, and don’t work quite the same.
Turns out, there’s a difference between getting yourself to a place where you start the process, going through the assigned steps, and then actually healing. Sorry, what I truly mean is giving yourself permission to actually heal.
Simply put, I may have wanted to stop being depressed, but I did not think I deserved to feel well. Only good people feel well. I would remind myself that since “people like me are a waste of space, I can only get to a certain point before I have to and think of my true worth –nothing.” Dark stuff, right? As a bonus, the self-accusation is purposefully vague enough that there is no blocking it with logic or outside kindness.
Making good active choices, such as going to the doctor, taking a yoga class, taking medication daily without missing a dose are all part of getting better, but they only uncovered the surface of my tangled mind. Just like you can go to the gym and kind of move weights up and down, you can go to a therapist and just talk. You might even cry, but none of that compares to actually teaching yourself to be happy when you don’t even understand what true joy might be.
Let me back up and explain the level of self-doubt that helped this prevail.
I would start feeling down. My husband would come into the room and ask if I would like to play video games or hang out with him, but I would decline, saying that I was not feeling well. While I wasn’t lying, there was another layer. When I was sad, I unquestionably also believed that I didn’t deserve to do anything I enjoyed until the feeling had passed and I truly earned the right to feel better. As if feeling happiness is a reward and not something all humans are entitled to experience.
I would go to the therapist and listen to what she had to say. We would talk about catching my negative self-talk and replacing it with positive affirmations. Then I would leave the office and immediately think about how weak I was for needing to see a therapist at all. Even if I did catch myself thinking these awful things, since they were my default for so long, I felt like I was powerless to change them. “My mind just works against me,” I would rationalize. Or worse yet, “this is who I am.” This meaning, a Depressed Person, not a Person With Depression.
Now here is the moment, you, the reader, might be expecting I learned all about changing my thinking to be more positive and finally had a breakthrough.
That’s not what happened. I couldn’t convince myself that I was okay overnight, after spending over twenty-five years of my life telling myself I wasn’t. All I have been able to do as of recently is just consider that it might be ok for me to not focus on the soul-crushing darkness that consumes my every thought. That is a small, yet broad step to truly feeling better.
I began considering that “What if I wasn’t the undeserving sh*t that I have been thinking I am? What then? What qualities do I have?” Well, it turns out, thinking I am not undeserving set off an avalanche of many more positive what-ifs. If I am not garbage, maybe I also deserve to be loved (just like everybody else does).
Could it be true that my friends actually do want to be around me? Could it be that I am not a failure? Spending so much time convincing myself that I was horrible sure created a huge list of things to reverse and reconsider. Until, finally, I thought, “perhaps having a bad day does not make me a bad person.”
Two things helped me get out of this cycle:
- Leaping over the awful feeling by faking a belief that I am not horrible
- Admitting that for me, it was important to stay on medication
The medication helped adjust the chemicals in my mind that kept me dependent on awful thoughts, while pretending to like myself made me start treating myself with some kindness. The combination of both is what sustains my positive emotions on my good days now.
I needed permission to be hopeful that my life would not always be run by depression. Permission I would not grant myself in case I was wrong, so as to avoid the pain of failing. On many days, the painful thoughts of being undeserving still creep in. That is very likely to keep happening for the rest of my life. However, the mere assumption that I am not complete garbage is what will keep those days further apart. It will let me look forward to the days when I do feel well, because I now I suspect I deserve them too.