Changing My Depression Mindset

A depression mindset is very powerful.  It holds me accountable for every failure; big and small, if it’s mine or not.  It tells me it’s not worth it to take care of myself.  That the more I try to, the more doctors will bias their assessments, the more people will judge me for trying to be something I was never meant to be.  It forces me to compare myself to others  who are more beautiful, more successful, more talented, who have an exciting life; and re-enforce that these are things that are not meant for me.

Seeing the world through the eyes of depression is only part of what has brought me to where I am today.  For most of my 20’s and 30’s I was not able to take each of the concepts listed above and challenge them objectively.  When I was in depression, I felt it completely.  It hurt.  It was real.  It was scary.  It was almost insulting that someone could suggest that I could take it away by just taking a statement and challenging it.  And, sometimes I think each time these ideas were presented, I held on stronger.

But, what friends, loved ones and therapists didn’t tell me (and maybe some din’t realize) was, that before we can change our mindsets, we need to understand what got us there.  It took 20 years to sort through the previous 20 years and put into place the the things I had learned about accountability and how I defined my self-worth.  Did it need to take that long?  No…there were long periods I thought I was OK, but I really was just distracted by work.    Or times when I was embarrassed for letting depression happen again.  Thinking I had done something wrong, and waited too long before getting help.

So, what is driving me in a different direction now?  Several things.  I’m a mom and a leader in an organization and I’m having chronic pain (headaches) that isn’t resolving even with significant amounts of treatment.  I’m barely making it though the week. I want to be a better role model for my daughter and organization.  But, I know I can’t create distractions like I did before.  I have to resolve the issues and if I want the pain to go away, I have to accept that I may change too.  I can’t hold on to the the feelings that the depression mindset generates – I am allowed to reject it and create the mindset that I want.  It just takes a little bit of effort and courage.

My desire in writing this article is to save others years of wasted time… that they can choose to find the courage to move into rejecting the depression mindset sooner than I did.  But, I’ve got to be realistic.  How would I feel if I read this article 5 years ago? 10 years ago?  5 years ago… I think it would have lit a spark.  But, 10 years ago… nope.  I suppose we all have our path to healing.  Weather or not we make it harder on ourselves.

 

Not all me

Do you remember being in elementary school, something bad happens and the teacher doesn’t see who did it? Everyone is directed to take their seats, be quiet and still, and the person responsible must come forward or the whole class will be punished.  I certainly experienced this on more than one occasion. Sometimes I knew who did it, but most of the time I was clueless. Instead of thinking, “Someone better speak up!” I was thinking, “This is my fault for letting it happen.”  

Now, you, the reader will say, “How was it your fault? You didn’t even know what happened.  That is rediculous.”  Yes.  It is. In a logical, rational mindset, it is.  But, even at a young age, I was already developing illogical thinking patterns like this that, to me, were very real.

Over time, these patterns become natural.  I learn in a professional environment that they aren’t always true.  I learn not to vocalize these feelings.  However, the impact they have on the level of stress that I carry is enormous.  The enormity of every problem is my fault. The failures and shortcomings of the organization I am in is my fault.   

As part of my recovery from self-hate, I need to break this habit.  It extends into every aspect of my life.  

Ok.  It’s time to work on some self-care and not own every problem.  

My escape from self-hate starts now

The decision to start writing these blog posts came after a few years of consideration.  I wasn’t sure how to approach it. What would people think, what would/should I share and what I would really get out of the process.

Right now, I’ve been in a depression for quite some time and I’m struggling.  I’m not coping well, and I’ve got some pretty significant risks to manage.  My psychiatrist and I agree that the only course of action at this time is to get down to business and develop my self-worth.  I agree, this is the only way to get past it.

But, this is hard.  I can’t seem to get past the “can’t anyone see I’m hurting???” phase.  But I know I can’t go off and just scream that out to the world.  I’ve been in this game long enough to know that most people don’t give a shit.  They’ll be polite for a conversation or two… but people have busy lives with their own problems, and depression is a heavy topic that is an energy drainer.  People WILL cut you off when they start to hear more than they want to hear.

So, maybe if I want to get past screaming out to the world all the crap that’s in my head, I can just write it here… and then maybe I can get past it and move on to starting to find a way to build my self-worth.

So, here’s a sample – and yes, it’s a sample, of what is in my head on any given day.  This is what drains my mental energy and is likely what is driving my chronic headaches/migraines.  I’ll start with walking through the day….

  • Getting dressed:  buying cloths is an anxiety crap shoot.  Which room will I have a panic attack in?   There is a ton of shame because of what I’ve done to my body.  So, in the last year or two, I’ve just said, “to hell with it!”  It’s just cloths.  I just need stuff that’s clean and doesn’t have holes.  I don’t have to look good.   So, I’ve been ignoring this act of self-care.
  • Looking polished – i’m crazy hair lady. mother nature is cursing me with a huge change in hormones and my already thick hair is getting thicker and frizzy!  I just don’t have time to deal with it.  My attempts to work with it are failures… i’m like a female Einstein most days.  I notice that the people at work who “sparkle” are the ones who get noticed and are taken seriously.  I’m so dull… I’m more like a dust bunny.  But, my attempts to move in that direction are met with those feelings of not feeling like I deserve to be that type of person. That style and “sparkle” is for someone else. That isn’t my place in life.
  • Time with my daughter – I get a break. She is my time to disconnect from myself and focus on her completely.  I need that.
  • Driving to work – i’m overwhelmed. i know i’m behind and i know i’m at risk.  (well, at least that’s how I see it).  I’m not making people happy across the organization.  There’s a lot of work to do.  Too much.  I’m not effective.  Even when I was not in a depression there were tough challenges – no less than now.  They grow and grow.  I tell myself I was a poor choice for this job.  I was picked because there was no one else.  That I will be replaced as soon as possible and then let go.  That I’m a failure. I’m letting everyone down.  That I didn’t properly prepare myself for this job.  I’ve reached my capability and need to step down before I ruin the organization. I’m a fraud.  That I can’t validate my existence.  Shame that I let it get this far. Shame that I didn’t develop my career better. Shame that I didn’t fix my depression earlier.  I never thought I would live this long.
  • Arriving at work – I’ve spent the drive in crying again.  I’m not mentally focused for work.  I’m a fuck-up for not doing the diligence that everyone else is doing to be ready to hit the ground running when they get to work – like I used to do.  I’m recalling if I did/didn’t work the night before and how that will impact the day.
  • Sit down – deep breath… here we go.   Time to try to tackle the day as it comes.  Let the self-hate and self-abuse run in the background.

Other complimentary thoughts to all of these things:

  • I’m making things worse for everyone- it would be better if I was not here.
  • I’m alone… very alone.
  • I hate the sound of my own thoughts.  I want to turn it all off.  I can’t take living in my head anymore.
  • I’ve done more harm than good in this world – it’s time to stop.
  • I’m hurting – and no one really understands except others who feel this way.  And, it’s asking a lot of me to expect others to. In the end, it doesn’t matter- I have to fix this on my own.
  • People just want those of us who fight this to be better. Most don’t want to know about how we get there, how long it takes or the stories behind why we are the way we are.  They just care about the image we project to them and how it impacts them.  So, another reason not to be too open…
  • I still feel like there is something about me that is different and less than. It’s been with me most of my life.  How do I get past this?…..
  • I really am selfish in the fact that sometimes I want people to give me credit for all the suffering I’ve been through (or you could say I’ve put myself through) in my life.  It’s not going to happen – and I do recognize that it’s absurd.  I think this need stems from the fact that I’ve kept most of it to myself.  I think that’s a consequence when you’re socially underdeveloped.  It builds up and then you want to just scream it out and have everyone give you a big pity party!   If I wasn’t socially underdeveloped, I would have a big bunch of girlfriends to take me out for dancing or karaoke and get me drunk and I’d get it all out of my system.
  • I hate myself…. and i need to fix that.

So, that feels a little better.  I’d like to conclude with a request.  Please, watch your kids and their behaviors as they grow and listen to everything they tell you and respect what they’re telling you.  Help them learn to build their own self-worth while they are young.  They NEED this skill to survive adulthood and make good choices. It is worth the investment.  Thanks for reading.

Stand up for your beauty

I am currently raising a nearly 5 year old girl who has just begun kindergarten.  She is a happy, smart and very talkative little girl. She is an only child and has a cute routine most mornings of waking up her father with a “pillow to the head.”  I try my best to keep mornings light hearted for everyone as it’s easier to get ready quickly when no one is stressed.  However, inside my anxiety is already starting to build.

My level depends on if I had to shower in the morning, if my husband was standing too close to me while I was getting dressed, and how many times I needed to look at myself in the mirror.  I do accept it – that these things have to happen at regular intervals and I just get up and press on – what choice to do I really have?

It wasn’t always like this.  When I was a teenager – wow, I used to spend HOURS just practicing different ways to apply eye shadow.  I never had trouble with getting in/out of the shower twice in a day, drying my epic amount of hair and making myself look nice.  Checking makeup and doing touch-ups was never a problem.

I remember as a child – at the age my daughter is now, that my mom, my grandmother, grandfather would tell me how beautiful I was – how handsome/beautiful my siblings were too.  I felt it when they said it to me – I felt beautiful around them.  Even at a young age, it felt precious – too precious for me to have for real.

But, life moved on these people who I loved so much moved on with me. They still told me I was beautiful even when I permed and teased my already enormous thick hair, and wear frosty purple eye-shadow.  Their compliments were the building blocks of my self-image.

College life became challenging – I choose a path that required dedicated study in two difficult disciplines.  In college I started leading the “lonely life.”  I started being very self-conscious, confused about how the world was operating around me and how or if I belonged.

I moved on to continue my studies at another university, and I isolated myself more by living off-campus where I didn’t know anyone but my boyfriend.  (But, at that age, everyone was living off campus, right??) It was a big change, as one would expect, but he loved me.

[Someone loved me!  In this world of people who looked at me funny, ignored me or laughed at me.  Someone loved me.  And, he really did.  We married many years later, were married for several years, but divorced.]

It wasn’t until I was thinking about how I’ve gotten so wrapped around the axle about getting myself together in the morning that my thoughts went back to that time in our lives.  At the time I didn’t realize it, but he had a habit of being argumentative just for the sake of having an opposing opinion and making conversation.  One day we were having a conversation about the makeup I was putting on and what I was doing to my hair to get ready to leave for class. I remember feeling very upset as it was happening- like everything I was doing to make myself feel good was no longer permissible.  Instead of telling him off – I internalized it.  That I was wrong and I had to accept this new way of thinking.  And, in his defense – he maybe while he was telling me how stupid the makeup was, he likely told me he felt that I didn’t need it, but even so… it wasn’t up to him.  But-  I changed who I was, and that part of me who I thought I would develop.

I didn’t have friends at that time – I didn’t have a support system around me to help me make sense of any of it. I just had my own faulty brain. And, that’s where I’ve been most of my life.  I’m socially underdeveloped.

As the years went on, I stopped all cosmetics.  Stopped cutting my hair.  Wore the same ball cap everywhere.  I started having panic attacks when I had to get dressed up to go somewhere.  Never mind the time and anxiety it took to find an outfit I’d usually try and find something cheap because why spend money on it?  Then get to the event and try to pretend that I’m comfortable, feeling as awkward as I was in college – feeling like people can see right through me to the mess I was below.   I was a fake, didn’t belong.

So, I’m a mess on a regular basis now.  And, now that my daughter is older, I’m embarrassed. It’s not what I wanted for myself when I was looking into the future as a teenager.  I’m not going to be able to change all of it.  I may not be able to change any of it. What I do is have perspective and experience for when my daughter needs it.  And, I can play dress-up with her in the isle with the sunglasses at the grocery store and let her call me, “pretty.”  And, have strangers stop and laugh (in a good way) and call me, “pretty,” too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is your house made of?

One of the most common issues I talk about with my psychiatrist is establishing self-worth.   Self-worth is having a love and appreciation for yourself for simply just being.  My lack of self-worth is at the core of my struggles with depression and building it will lead me to the permanent relief I’m looking for. However, the concept is an idea that I can not sit with.  It’s the equivalent of me trying to turn myself into a frog.

I’m working to understand self-worth better so maybe I can crack this egg and move forward.  I’ve found some parallels to a classic story.  Read on.

We’ve all heard the story of the 3 little pigs.  Each pig has a house and they’re all made of different materials; hay, sticks and bricks. The houses in this story represent our self-worth.  One little pig has a house made of hay -a hastily assembled home, it looks like a home, but no thought what-so-ever put into making it structural or resilient.  The next home was made of sticks – took longer to make, materials more carefully considered and didn’t take a huge time investment.  The last pig made a house of bricks – chose the right materials to make a home, chose the right materials to assemble the bricks into a home, took the right amount of time to let the materials cure to solidify the home into a safe place to live.

Along comes the “Big Bad Wolf”.  The wolf represents a significant life-impacting event. As the wolf approaches each home, his intent is to destroy each home; and, he’s successful except for the brick home.  The brick home represents solid self-worth.  It stays intact.  It will always be a house, function as a house, know it’s a house; no matter what happens in the environment around it.  The stick home represents what I believe to be an average person’s self-worth.  When the wolf comes along and blows it down, the house disappears, but the pieces are recognizable – they are large and manageable to pick up and put back together again. Sometimes, if there are repeat events, it gets unmanageable; but for the most part – the stick house will get you through if you care for it properly.

The house made from hay represents poor self-worth.  An encounter from the wolf will certainly destroy it.  Gathering the materials to simply reconstruct the house takes time. Pieces of hay that were once part of the house could scatter and be lost forever.  Parts of the house may not go back where they were supposed to, and the house may look different when it’s reassembled. People may not recognize the house anymore.

So, after looking at self-worth from this perspective, I can see that I certainly am a house made of hay.  I need to upgrade my materials because I’m exhausted from the upkeep.

This is a large problem to tackle. I know it won’t happen overnight – i’m still trying to get my arms around the definition and scope of what I’m trying to do.  But, at least now, I know what I’m made of and why days are getting harder and harder.

But, there’s hope, right?  There’s always hope as long as i stay motivated to continue learning and investigating my feelings.

 

Consider This…

The life of someone you love is threatened at this very minute.  He/she will not reach out to you for help for fear that you might learn their secret.  This isn’t the first time their life is at risk, it’s happened over and over again without you ever knowing.  It was critical during these times that they appear calm, stoic and show no sign of distress; because showing that to you would mean exposing everything.

It’s a horrifying scenario for both parties.  Wanting to reach out for help, but knowing you can’t for fear of potentially hurting someone you love.  Knowing it is imperative to remain calm so no one knows what fear and anxiety lies within you, but frantic about what could possibly be in store for you at the end of the day, and desperate to do something to save yourself.  

No one has any way of knowing this person is in distress.  There are no outward signs for this occasion, and all past occasions were covered up as well.   It’s virtually impossible to expect anyone to be able to help in this scenario.

But really, how often does this happen?  Does it ever outside of a movie theater?

It happens… and to some it happens frequently.

Some people who suffer with chronic anxiety, depression or other mental illness struggle with suicidal ideation attacks like the one described above.  The overwhelming feelings  of worthlessness and hopelessness come on like a punch to the gut and knock the wind out of you. As soon as you regain your breath, you notice your legs feel 500 lbs heavier and it’s harder to move.  Sometimes your vision blurs for a while and you’re disoriented.

The only difference with the scenario presented initially is that the reader can easily assume that the person’s life is threatened by an outsider, not by the person’s own mind.

These attacks can be short or can last for days.  In my own personal experience, it is like someone is following me around with a gun to my head ready to pull the trigger at any moment.  If I make one wrong move I’m done.  I have to behave normally to get through the day, but on the inside I’m screaming to be set free from the terrorist which is my own mind.

What causes these episodes?  It’s likely different for everyone – this isn’t a scientific paper, mainly based off my experience and a couple others and input from my doctors.

I think the better question to ask is why do we have these episodes?  Why are we going for the need to remove ourselves?  It is driven by lack of self-worth.  (You can see how these episodes would correlate with any mental health issue that has a depression component.)

Self-worth is the component that anchors us to a place in this world.  It validates our right to take up space, and get the same resources and opportunities as everyone else.  For some of us, self-worth gets distorted or corrupted.  How that happens is different for everyone.  I think some of it is how we are raised, I think some of us are born with a personality that makes that development harder, and some have significant life events that change our perspective on who we are.

It’s important, as you read on, to understand that there is no quick fix to these issues.  Recovering self-worth and curing people from suicidal ideation attacks is something that takes understanding and time.  They didn’t develop overnight- and they are very challenging to reverse. Having recurring issues is not a sign of failure.  Keep working.  Read on.

One might think that this would be something sufferers would have no trouble reaching out for help with.  “Hey, help me, my mind is playing tricks on me! Give me something to feel good about!  Tell me there isn’t someone with a gun to my head!”  But, most people at this point have been down this road more than once.  And, it’s not that simple.

You’ve reached out to people before. Asked a friend or loved one for help; or, they’ve insisted you tell them what is going on because you did let on something was up.  Most people respond immediately with something that boils down to, “How could you do this to me? We need to get you to a mental hospital right away! Where is the number to your psychiatrist?”  At that point you’ve gone from looking for comfort into a full blown panic thinking, “Look what I’ve done now! I hurt/confused/angered him/her by just letting them know what I’m experiencing. If I share who I am, it hurts people.”

It’s very easy to learn that sharing who they are and what they’re going through is negative.  These reactions promote the idea that they are inadequate and keep them from engaging socially and seeking support.

Time to slow down and examine the situation from both perspectives.

First, the receiver of the information.  If the receiver is not prepared, he/she is at a disadvantage from the start.  Reactions like the one described above are normal, given what they perceive as a scary situation with someone they love.

So, what to do?  First, try not to overreact.  The fact that someone is sharing this deeply personal information at the risk of being judged is a sign that they are in need of some comfort and acceptance. The experiences they’ve had include a repetitive dialogue that goes something like this,  “you don’t belong here, you are making everyone’s life worse, remove yourself so things can be better without you.”  These thoughts are very real to them; it’s OK to say you don’t feel the same way, but do not to deny their feelings.

Please, keep in mind.  The people struggling with these issues often have been through a lot before they open up to you about it.  Repetitive negative thoughts like the ones described above have significant impacts.   To name a few: panic attacks, the feeling as if they have just made a suicide attempt, exhaustion, shame, self-hate, and trouble seeing past the issues in their mind to the big picture, etc…   You can see, the person dealing with this has a lot on their plate.  Often, just listening without judgement, without trying to fix the problem, without overreacting, and simply saying, “I’m always here for you. I love you and I’m glad you can share these thoughts with me,” goes a long way to building a support system they can feel safe with.

A key word is that these are often thoughts that people are sharing and not suicidal plans. There is a big difference.   Will talk more about that in a couple paragraphs.

Next, therapists and psychiatrists are there to help. They are trained to handle these discussions with care. They know what questions to ask, signals to look for, instructions to give…. to BOTH parties.  Ask if you can go to the next appointment so you can learn how to best communicate in a therapeutic way.

Next, the person in crisis.  You are in a vulnerable state.  You have a huge burden you are trying to diffuse.  Remember, the information you are communicating is familiar to you, but very new to the person you are sharing with.

If you can, try to remember how scared you were the first time you had these thoughts. You likely over-reacted, called everything in your life into question, and made some bad decisions.  You can not expect others to be cool, calm and collected as your therapist and know what triggers to avoid. Remember, they truly want to help and they are going to do what comes naturally to them, which is likely going to make you worse .  If you can – guide them to help them help you.  Tell them, “I have some upsetting news to share with you.    I would like you to just listen to me and be here for me.  I need someone to accept me for who I am right now.  Please don’t try to fix the situation, just say that you love me.”

This does not mean that all hope is lost and you will never have a support system that can automatically respond to you. It means that it takes education, communication, and patience from both parties to develop a supportive relationship.

The person in recovery wants exceptions taken for the struggles he/she is having, but it has to go the other way too.  This is hard on the people around them and a practical  perspective of that can not be lost.  For example:  don’t overreact when people don’t comfort you in a way you need.  If you’re too upset in the moment, remove yourself and come back when you’re calm and explain what you need and why their instinctual reactions do not work for you.  That is your responsibility in developing your support system.

Being able to communicate with your partner or family and friends effectively is complementary to and does NOT replace PROFESSIONAL help and doing work on yourself!

Last, some pointers for both parties.  One thing that both parties have to accept, is that you must do a real, honest, check-in about planning.  Suicidal ideation and planning are two different things.    It’s one thing to have a voice in your head telling you that you should be dead and you don’t deserve to be part of the world around you, it’s another thing to start thinking about a plan and then putting a plan together.   However, it doesn’t take a lot of stress to go from ideation to planning.  So, it’s important to be honest and clear about this.

If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area,anytime 24/7.