Depression, Anxiety, and Learning to Love Yourself

Depression, Anxiety, and Learning to Love Yourself

I've been meaning to do a thread lately on the subjective experience of feeling depressed/isolated/anxious and being in a general unwell state.

It's unpleasant, and I'm curious how much my experiences track with other people's and how you manage being in these states.

Right now I feel pretty great and at peace (today). I find myself in these states a LOT less now that I've found a medication regimen that works for me. I've also been pushed to grow a LOT in the last year and this has helped me immensely.

Talking about being depressed is probably best done when you're not currently depressed, because you can view it a little bit more objectively.

This is one of the worst things about being depressed/extremely anxious... things get magnified out of proportion.

There's a coming you might have seen called The Oatmeal and the author captures a lot of the feelings common to ADD/depression/anxiety sufferers beautifully.

Here's one:

https://theoatmeal.com/comics/unhappy

Also Hyperbole and a Half had a great take on this too:

https://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2011/10/adventures-in-depression.html

Comics are great for expressing these emotions because of the power of seeing the expressions of the characters alongside the text.

More here:

https://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2013/05/depression-part-two.html

I think about these comics a lot when I'm feeling down.

I used to have maybe 1-2 weeks per every 4-6 where I'd get seriously, despondently, cry in a corner and drink alcohol depressed. I had all kinds of justifications for why but the truth was I just FELT that way and attributed it to environmental factors.

Now that I'm older and (slightly) wiser and (much) more medicated I can see more clearly that that was largely the symptoms of my broken brain, emotional sensitivity, and overreaction to negative stimulus upsetting me.

If you ever suffer from these types of feelings, I can't recommend Gabor Mate's "Scattered Minds" highly enough. It may or may not feel relevant to you, but it completely re-contextualized how I see many of my needs and moods and gave me clearer things to work on.

I also recommend working closely with your doctor and a qualified therapist/psychiatrist to see if there's a medication combo that can help you. Treating my ADD that was undiagnosed for most of my adult life and getting on a very low dose of Zoloft has been life changing.

But while I no longer spend a week crying in a corner once each month (while pretending I'm fine and gritting through my work day), I do still have little emotional triggers that get me and spend a day or two feeling down every 4-6 weeks or so. Still a massive improvement.

The feelings I most associate with these periods are self-loathing and shame. Also a deep, generalized ennui and boredom... a desire to not want to do anything, and shame at that feeling because it makes me feel isolated and different.

I've come to recognize this sense of "boredom" not as true boredom but as a classic case of depression. It's not that I don't enjoy my usual activities. It's that I can't bring myself to want to do ANYTHING. I wish I had recognized this for what it was earlier in my life.

The shame piece is big too. When I'm feeling down, I feel weak and vulnerable. I feel lonely. It's when I would most like to talk to a friend to cheer me up. And I have dozens of friends I could call! I keep in touch with lots of people and I know they care about me.

But the shame keeps me from reaching out to them because in the moment, I don't believe it would help me. I feel like a drag. I don't want to inflict my negative mood on someone else. So I turn inward and hide, feeling ashamed and hopeless that I can't just Be Better.

I've also historically had a tendency to wallow in my sadness when I feel like this. I dig up old wounds and remember how much they hurt. I think about the ways I've hurt people and am bad. I miss old flames and friends who've passed out of my life. I listen to sad music.

I became so pro at wallowing in this mood that I had a music playlist for years called "Moody" (and "Moody Deux" and "Tres") that I cultivated for exactly these moment. Lots of Amanda Palmer and Lana Del Rey and Leonard Cohen. I was a pro at making myself feel bad.

I used to blame myself for all of this. I told myself in these moments that I was a bad person and I deserved to feel bad and I'd never be able to break out.

While I've never acted on it, I've thought about killing myself LOTS of times. It still flits through sometimes.

The weird thing about the inclination to kill yourself (for me at least) is that at the moment you're considering it, it seems like the easy path. Like, "Why am I struggling so hard? I have guns... this would be easy to be done with."

But those impulses also SCARED me.

Because a week later I'd be fine again and I'd go, "Holy shit... I have so much to live for. Life is so full of possibilities. Why would I even consider doing that to myself?" It's scary to not be able to trust your brain.

And you can't! Your brain is lying to you.

But in that moment, wrapped up in feeling miserable and ashamed and hopeless that anything could get better or anyone could help you, it's SO hard to reach out to people.

Nobody wants to be the friend who calls crying because they're sad for no reason. It feels frivolous.

So you just kind of sit there and suffer in silence, hoping you're not crazy enough to act on your depressed inclinations that you know scare you when you're better. Hoping something will get better.

I was talking to my (then) therapist once about being in a mood like this when I was with her and she asked me what I thought was making her upset.

I gave her a laundry list of things I've carried with me for years.

And she paused and looked thoughtful, and then asked me, "Are those things _making_ you upset, or are they comfortable explanations to reach for WHEN you're upset?"

It kind of blew my mind, because she was so right.

I started noticing that things I was upset about when I was depressed didn't really bother me when I wasn't. Sure, I miss my exes sometimes. Yes, I've had some challenging life experiences. Yes, I'm sometimes lonely.

But those things only REALLY bother me and I only REALLY spend time ruminating on them when I'm depressed anyway. Which is silly. It helped me see how extremely chemical it was and take steps to fixing the chemical issue in my brain.

With better self-awareness of my body's natural rhythms and tendencies, it's become much easier to see reactions for what they are. If I feel especially bored, lonely, or depressed, I now ask myself a new set of questions.

How much sleep have I been getting lately? How much have I been working vs playing? Have I gone for a walk or a run lately? Did I miss taking my medication?

Recognizing these as symptoms of physical issues or needs my body has has helped me contextualize the feelings.

I'm less likely to feel a strong sense of shame or self-loathing when I see it this way, because suddenly it's not my "fault" any longer. I'm not a bad person. I'm just a human person, doing her best to struggle along like everyone else.

And it's a sign I should probably be taking better care of myself. It reduces my need to reach out to someone because I recognize that I have the power to help myself, too (although I absolutely would now if I was in a really hard place).

And even more than that, experience has taught me that it's _okay_ to feel like that sometimes. Getting comfortable sitting with the bad feelings and not reaching out to distract myself from them (to friends, games, drugs, alcohol) has been a very important lesson.

Reaching for a gun or pills or a razor is the same root motivation. You want to move away from the badness. But sometimes the only way out is through. The less bad you feel about the badness, the easier it is to be at peace and the less bad you can feel.

I think learning to accept and be with the pain, mental or physical, our bodies inflict on us is an important part of growing up and maturing (which doesn't stop in your 20s, by the way). Integrating it and learning to be with it reduces the suffering you experience.

And while I don't think my shame TRIGGERS my depression, it certainly gets triggered by it. Reflecting deeply on sources of guilt and shame you carry and processing them has also helped me make these periods less intense.

Accepting who I am more and more has been a large part of the healing process. I used to carry so much shame for just existing and the hurt my meandering path has carved through people I cared about.

There's a scene in ASoIaF early in the first book where Tyrion is talking to Jon and I've thought about it a lot over the years since first reading it when I was about 11.

Jon objects to being called a bastard and Tyrion offers him a piece of sage advice.

“Let me give you some advice, bastard. Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.”

Over and over again in my life, I've slowly learned the truth of this lesson.

You have to accept who you are, flaws and all, to give yourself space to heal and forgive yourself for not living up to whatever idealized expectations you had for yourself. It's the only way to really grow past your issues and find out what you're capable of.

While it might be trite to point out, your whole life can change in an instance from a chance encounter you never expected. Love can hit like a lightning bolt. Career opportunity unfolds at times when you least expect it. New friends present in situations you'd never expect.

And it's most important to remind yourself of these things in those moments where you feel weakest... where you hate yourself, where you think you're unlovable, when you feel like no one could ever understand you and the pain you feel or if they could, they wouldn't care.

Because even if that's true (and it's not), the most important person to receive love from is yourself. You have to learn to love yourself. Why wouldn't you love yourself? Letting go of judgement and shame about yourself is the most healing thing you'll ever do.

I used to never understand how people could say, "Don't worry about what other people think of you" because I thought I was so bad. But that was coming from ME, even if I'd get minor external ripples from others that I'd seize on as confirmation of my worst fears.

I was so afraid that others would see my badness. That they'd judge me. And it was because *I* thought I was bad. I was prejudging myself, and I was my own jury (and thankfully not my own executioner).

This consistently got in the way of any attempts to heal. The medication has helped a ton, but really it just gave me the space and distance to appreciate how disordered my own thinking about myself and my badness compared to other people was.

It's only been in the last few years (in my mid-30s) that I've really started learning to love and forgive myself. It's a slow, grueling process. But the rewards are massive. I get depressed less. I manage it better.

I'm also less sensitive to what people say about me and better at appreciating when it's coming from their own pain and frustration at the hand they've been dealt... and responding compassionately in spite of any venom.

It's so true that hurting people hurt other people. Healing yourself has compounding effects on every aspect of your life. And it's absolutely possible to heal, no matter how hopeless it seems. Small shifts in perspective can change your whole experience of reality.

I'm not pro at this yet, but I'm getting better every day. The despondent, hopeless feelings are your brain lying to you about the myriad glittering possibilities of life laid out in front of you. We all have the capacity for self love and friendship and connection.

So please... work on loving yourself. You deserve love. There are ways to heal and work through your anxiety and depression. No one is so broken or irredeemable that this is impossible for them... even if it seems like you are right now.

If you can't love yourself, you'll never fill that hole by looking to other people.

You are a beautiful, shining person deserving of love, and you have everything you need already inside of you.