I’ll be honest, I’ve had a rough couple of weeks. My depression has been rearing it’s ugly head, with anxiety cheering it on and giving it ideas. I’m trying my best to remember that recovery is not a straight line and that set backs are part of it, but it’s hard not to think of this as failure. So I’m going to do what always helps and share with you some of the things I find help me cope on my hardest days. Thinking that these things will help someone else have a better day makes me feel much better.
So a huge buzzword in recovery or mental health circles is affirmation. That’s a phrase or thought that you repeat to yourself in order to remind yourself of something positive. It could be “my weight does not define me” or “it’s only human to make mistakes.” It sounds a bit corny, and it is when you think about someone staring themselves down in the mirror, chanting. But they honestly do help. It’s helpful to take control of your thought process, stop the spiral it might have already been going down, and redirecting it somewhere more positive and realistic. This is one aspect of something called cognitive behavioral therapy, which is much more complicated so we won’t get too much into it here.
In simpler terms, it’s taking whatever garbage your mental illness is trying to make you believe, tossing that out, and replacing it with something else. Sounds easy, and it’s not. But you’ve got to start somewhere. So here are five of my most effective assertions that I make to myself when things are getting bad again.
Other people have free will
This might seem strange, but stay with me. The number one thing that I struggle with constantly is the fear that people don’t actually like me. Whether they feel bad for me, or are too nice, or used to like me but don’t anymore, I am always afraid that my friends secretly hate me. I find it very hard to believe that other people would like me and enjoy my company. I’m not saying this to get compliments or reassurances that people like me, because those only help to a certain extent. That’s where this assertion comes into play.
Other people have every right to not hangout with me. They are completely free to not contact or communicate with me. Nothing is stopping Nick, for example, breaking up with me and sending me packing. They are all free to do that. But they don’t. Why? Well, I don’t really know, but logically, it’s because something is making them stay. There’s no downside or backlash to not being my friend, and if you wanted out of my life, I would try to keep you there, but I wouldn’t fight you if you were determined. So there has to be a reason why these people keep messaging me and spending time with me and travelling to see me and spending money on gifts for me. They have no obligation to, but they do.
Your emotions are valid, but not always true
This one is a bit complicated, so let me break it down for you. Emotions can be confusing. They are irrational and seemingly uncontrollable, reacting to things before you can decide on it. It’s easy to say that because of that, it’s best to write off emotions as pretty useless overall and unreliable at best. But emotions do have a purpose. They allow us to connect and empathize with others, find meaning in life, and experience the world on a level higher than mere survival. One of the first tests that we do on animals to test their intelligence is whether or not they experience complex emotions. More than fear or hunger, which are strictly survival, we look to see if they can form relationships, find enjoyment in recreation, and experience grief when they lose something important to them. Emotional intelligence is important to our humanity.
So what do you do when your emotions are destroying you? Often when I’m depressed, I feel alone, sad, anxious, and worthless. I feel afraid of losing everyone in my life. Even if there is no reason or explanation for that sudden fear, I still feel it and sometimes, even feel as though it’s already happening. How can such irrational emotions be helpful? Well it tells me who I care most about and reminds me to be grateful for them. It might not be on the verge of becoming a lonely hermit, but that feeling that I will creates gratitude which creates deeper appreciation. So it’s important to recognize these feelings for what they are, acknowledge that they’re not necessarily reflective of real life, and use them to move forward.
In what ways can you take control back?
Another issue I face when in a deep depression is the feeling that I am out of control of my life and self, and no matter what I do, I keep running it into the ground. I feel like there’s nothing I can do to help myself, and every effort puts off the inevitable. But that’s simply not true. Sure, I can’t control everything. I can’t decide for other people how they feel, as we already discussed. I can’t control whether I get the job or meet the right people or if there’ll be a hurricane tomorrow. I just can’t, and to pretend so would be unfair to myself. But that are many things I can control.
In times like this, I like to take a step back and remind myself what I do control. I have power over myself and my actions. I choose how I speak to other people and how I respond to the way they speak to me. I choose how I eat, whether I exercise, how much TV I watch, whether or not I take my medication. No one can choose those things for me, unless I allow them to. For everything I can’t control, there is something I can. I can’t decide if people like me or not, but I can decide whether it bothers me or is worth changing myself over. I can’t control the way my metabolism functions, but I can control what I eat and how much of it I eat. I don’t get to choose to hire me, but I do choose how to ensure I have the experience and skills required for the job. Here are some ways I can remind myself of that:
- write a list of to-dos
- plan my week
- write down a list of things I’ve accomplished recently
- do something for myself, such as take a bath or eat a good meal
- do something with a tangible result, such as cooking or make a craft
Not everyone’s best looks the same
Try your best! It’s something we’ve all been told, or told someone else. Just try your best, they say, like it’s just that easy. And what if your best isn’t good enough? That’s a fear that I have every time someone says this to me. What if I try and work myself weak and still don’t measure up? There’s always someone who’s better than you at everything you do right? Well, in a way.
People are unique. Everyone on this earth has lived their own unique life, is given a unique body, and experiences life in their perspective. Because of this, not everyone is going to be the most talented at every task they try. I could do my best at snowboarding, but I don’t think I would beat Chloe Kim in a race. Now I’m not saying that if you aren’t immediately Olympian levels of talented at something, you should just give up. Chloe didn’t walk out of the womb a gold medalist. Hard work, determination, and support systems factor into success. But comparing yourself to everyone else isn’t going to help either. “Do your best” should mean just that. Practice, work hard, and persevere. You have something unique to bring to the world, just like everyone else. It might not be the same road to success or as short of a journey as it is for others, but you deserve to try.
You only see everyone else’s highlight reel
Depression is so good at convincing you that no one has ever felt the way you do right now. No one else has ever had a bad day, no one else struggles with mental illness, and no one else makes mistakes and falls behind. And if you took Instagram and Twitter at face value, you might start to believe it. Beautiful pictures and witty quips don’t come from people struggling to get out of bed, right? People post about their accomplishments, things they enjoy, and stuff their good at. It’s so easy to scroll through it all and lose yourself in all the things you’re not doing or experiencing.
The best way I’ve heard this put is: you have to deal with your “behind the scenes,” and comparing it to everyone else’s finished product. Watching a blockbuster film is not the same as being behind the scenes when the set falls over or craft services gives everyone food poisoning or the lead breaks their leg. You just see what happened after it was all fixed and edited together to make a perfect picture. Other people are probably struggling in similar ways, feeling the same fear and inadequacy that you are. They just don’t want to post about it, and I can’t really blame them. But that’s why it’s important to remember that you don’t really know what’s going on in someone else’s life just from their social feeds.
So there are some of the affirmations I try to keep in mind when my brain is turning on itself. It’s hard to remember to use them and even harder to believe them, but it’s the first step to overcoming mental illness. Your mind may not like it, but you have to take control of your thoughts as best you can. What tactics do you use to get out of depressive funk? Share them below!