My wife and I were watching The Fosters (great show) recently, and one of the characters said something that really struck me:
“I think you’re just afraid of being anything other than the poor girl with the sad story.”
Isn’t that interesting? There have been times over the years that I’ve thought, “This is who I am. This is what I am – depressed, lonely, and stuck.”
But what and who would I be if I was suddenly not depressed anymore, not anxious? Not “disabled”? Just, “This is me,” offering no apologies.
Kim, my new therapist, asked me similar questions last week (She’s good, damn her!). She asked me what it would look like if I wasn’t depressed/ashamed/full of guilt anymore? What would my life be like?
I’m not sure anyone’s ever asked me that before. I had to really think about it, because the thought had never really crossed my mind. I told her that I’d smile and laugh more, be able to relax without the help of a pill (or two), I’d sleep better, I’d go out and do more things with people, I wouldn’t isolate so much…and the list goes on.
Then we had this nice talk about identity. It turns out identity is not static; it can change. For instance, I used to manage a very large non-profit program; that was a part of my identity. Now I write, and that’s a part of my identity. I used to be an excellent tennis player, which was a big part of who I was; last spring, I picked up a racket after almost a dozen years and played (and had fun!) all summer. So I say that “athlete” is now, again, a part of my identity.
DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU THINK
When you have clinical depression or anxiety or whatever, your brain sometimes goes on a rampage of negativity, after just a teeny tiny little trigger – or, more often, no trigger at all. We really need to remember that we are often not what we claim to be, what we tell ourselves we are, because Lord knows it can get pretty bad.
You and I? We’re not bad people trying to get good. We’re sick people trying to get well.
When my brain goes awry, it tells me that I am worthless, that life is hopeless, and that I suck. All of my supposed imperfections come to the surface, and I call myself names like procrastinator, lazy, worthless, stupid. Not only is this practice self-defeating and self-judging, it keeps me from growing. It keeps me stuck. Unless you shove a stick in the spokes and make it stop, it’ll just keep going like that for weeks, months, and yes, years.
I am not just a person with a mental illness, nor am I just a recovering alcoholic or a lesbian. I am not my weight, my anxiety, my fear, my body image, the most dysfunctional one in my family. I am not impatient, angry, lost, indecisive, sneaky, lonely, an excellent liar, lazy, or incompetent.
That may be some of what my broken heart tells me about myself (I break my own heart), but there is a part of me that knows none of this is true.
My brain knows that I am intelligent, athletic, and very sensitive (blessing and curse); I’m super compassionate, I’m fair, I’m kind, I treat people with respect, and I have many talents. I’m actually one of those people most people get along with. 🙂
So why do we focus on the negative? I once read something that said, “Focus 90% on the solution and only 10% on the problem.” But people with depression tend to live in the problem, we become the problem. Or rather, the problem becomes our identity. It takes us over.
WORK ZONE AHEAD
When we realize that our depression is taking us over, and our dysfunctional brains escort us into the abyss, we get stuck in that deep, endless rut. And it can go on and on for days, weeks, months, even years.
That’s when the real work starts.
No matter the malady(ies) you suffer from, repeat after me:
It is not my fault I have this disease, and I can overcome it.
Once we know what the problem is, we can do things to change the way we look at it, we can change our perception of our own reality. We can go from saying, “I am depressed” or “I have an anxiety disorder” to “I can get through this” and “I know for a fact that I will feel better at some point”. They are small changes, and they are gradual, believe me – but it is imperative that we feed ourselves positive thoughts.
We can stop labeling ourselves as sick and start thinking of ourselves as people who are resilient, strong, and who can survive the worst. After all, you’ve made it this far – you must be doing something right. Right?
So, you see, you can change your own identity. You can stop labeling yourself, right now, if you want.
For decades, I identified myself as depressed. I thought I was sick, unproductive, and a waste of space. Now that I know I can actually make it through a depressive episode and that it does not, in fact, last forever, I sometimes get to think of myself as a survivor, a courageous and strong woman. And I haven’t given up yet.
That’s a whole different mindset. I use different words to think about and describe myself now (most of the time), and that helps create a more positive environment in my brain (and my heart) for even more positive experiences to fill me up. My entire thought pattern is different some days. Those self-defeating, negative labels are all but gone.
The hardest and, perhaps, the most frustrating part of it all is that none of this is a “one and done”. You don’t just have a good day and never feel like a broken person ever again. There is no cure for this shit. We need to practice positivity hard, really hard, so that it becomes a habit. Then we will have more good days than bad days.
NEVER TRUST A DEPRESSED BRAIN
When we’re depressed, it taints all of our decisions and behaviors. Just like drinking and drugs. You get drunk, you act drunk, you make drunk decisions even though everyone knows you would never do that if you were sober. We need to give ourselves reasons to trust our decision-making so we don’t just fall down the hole again. And again. And again.
We are not necessarily who or what we define ourselves as. We are often wrong. When our depressive brains take over, it tells us nasty things about ourselves, about the world. How many times have you told yourself that you are a wreck, and that no matter what you do, you will never feel better? Or that you’re “freaking out!”
Well, guess what?
You are not damaged, you are not broken, and you are not a problem that needs fixing.
Go ahead. Tell yourself those words. Notice your responses – physical, emotional, your thoughts. I bet you are arguing with yourself over that statement right now.
But maybe, maybe, if we keep telling ourselves that, we’ll start to believe it. And so will other people (they probably already know how wonderful we are). Act like you deserve to be here, like you are worth something, let your creativity flow. I’d bet a lot of money that sending ourselves good thoughts, even if we don’t actually believe them yet, will help each of us feel better and better about ourselves.
And then, we start to believe.
Try it for a day. Half a day. Say it out loud, first into the ether, then in front of a mirror. Then say it to someone who cares. Do it over and over. Do it tomorrow, too.
What have you got to lose?
Keep it Real, Warriors.