One of the telltale signs of being depressed, at least for me, is both downplaying and minimizing anything positive about my life. I tend to see things about myself in such a negative way that I can’t possibly give myself any real credit, or believe something positive that I hear.
That kind of thinking just fuels depression and anxiety. It keeps me from living my life and enjoying the moment as it happens.
This has become increasingly evident as I have been working through some exercises in my weekly sessions with my therapist. Things such as, listing positive qualities about yourself, or listing accomplishments that you are proud of or that others are proud of you for. No matter I write down, or talk about in conversation, I will find a way to downplay it and turn it into something than what it should be.
As an example, we talked recently about what my daily job entails. I mention how I feel this constant need to justify myself at my job. To try to do more work than others, or at least as much work, so I feel like I’m pulling my own weight. It doesn’t matter how much I get done in a day, how many spreadsheets I work on, how much progress I make on a project, or whatever, I don’t feel like I’ve done enough.
It’s not that I’m trying to outdo the next guy, or that I feel like I’m better than anyone. On the contrary, I’m just trying to make it seem like I can keep up with others who I think do more or are more intelligent than I am. In reality, my boss is happy with my work. The other departments I work with know that I do a good job and they appreciate my efforts and insight. I have a good reputation and have been with the company for a long time.
Yet when someone tells me that I’m going a good job, and they appreciate me, I politely say thank you and proceed to downplay it in my head. “I could do more”, “It’s not that big of a deal”, “So and so is still better than I am”, are some of the thoughts that run through my brain. Talk about self-imposed anxiety and depression.
I mean I never let myself off the hook for anything, or let myself feel any good emotion. I will inevitably find a way to turn it into something that still needs work.
My therapist tells me constantly, that I am a survivor, that I am strong, and to look at how far I’ve come. She’s proud that I took the initiative to get help and deal with the PTSD that comes from childhood sexual abuse. She’s proud that I work on the exercises she gives me, that I can talk to her freely, and that I work on coping skills and grounding skills.
Of course I return with the inevitable, “yeah but”. I think she’s getting tired of hearing me say that, “yeah but”, but I can’t help it. See there I go again. I can’t even write this post without justifying a negative feeling.
All this negatively comes from the constant emotional abuse of being bullied in elementary school and middle school. It also comes from the helpless feelings that come from the abuse. As a kid, I was helpless to defend myself against the perpetrator, or the bullies. While that makes sense when she says it, my mind is saying, “yeah but, I could have fought back. I could have run away, I could have told someone. I could have thicker skin”. Take your pick but you can see the “yeah but” syndrome I deal put myself through.
To me, thinking my current problems stem from all that seems like a cop-out, because I’m an adult now, decades later. Having experiences like that still haunt me and affect my daily life seems ridiculous. It’s not though, it’s real, it’s painful, and it’s hard to work through.
That example I gave about my job, that goes for any situation you can think of. Compliments that friends give me, that my therapist gives me, that my family gives me. You name it and I’ll minimize or downplay it until it’s nothing more than an empty phrase that I can digest and accept.
I asked her, as a friend and a therapist, “is there any hope for this”. Of course she replied, that yes there was. She cautioned though that’s it’s a slow process, and involves constant waves of positive reinforcement and a realistic mindset that I am a good person, I do a good job at work, that I have people who love, care, and appreciate me. That won’t happen overnight, but it will happen and when it does, it will be amazing.
They say “slow and steady wins the race”, and while this healing process isn’t a race, I definitely have the slow part down pat.
-I came up with that graphic in this post, to help encourage myself to celebrate each positive step in my recovery, and hopefully encourage you too. I’m not at the point yet where I can honestly say that I live that mantra fully, but I’m trying.