Re-writing the story

Yesterday I mentioned that I wanted to write about an article from the New York Times in my post today.  Well, that’s going to have to wait for another day.  It’s possible that had I been feeling better, tonight’s post would deal with what I envisioned when I was writing yesterday.  But unfortunately, I would have to say that I was most definitely not at my best today.  Like a lot of Saturdays recently, this one started off pretty normally–I woke up feeling fine, and an hour or two later, felt uninterested in doing anything and, overall, pretty down.  In previous weeks, though, I’ve managed to shake this feeling off at some point during the day and get moving.  Today, I didn’t succeed in doing that.  I’d planned to go running since the weather has been crummy this week and I haven’t gotten out since Tuesday, but I didn’t.  I’d also planned on working on doing some blog maintenance, getting some email stuff taken care of, working on a knitting project…instead, I spent most of the day in bed, crying.

I’ve been writing a lot about eating disorders lately, and not quite as much about depression, even though I think it’s just as important to draw attention and give a voice to this condition as it is with EDs.  Depression, in my opinion, can be hard to write about.  For one thing, when you’re depressed, you don’t feel like doing much of anything; when you’ve managed to clear out of your depressive haze, one of the last things you want to do is revisit it by reflecting on it and writing about it.  But as I learned today, one of the better things you can do for yourself when you’re feeling as though you can’t get any lower is think a little bit about the story you’re telling yourself and, if you can, try to re-write it.  I can’t take credit for this bit of wisdom, since it came to me via Nat as he tried to convince me that I don’t really hate running, and that my blog isn’t stupid and just a bunch of lies.

He was right: the problem is not with the reality of things, but with the way I perceive that reality.  Here’s the story I was telling myself (or at least an introduction to it): “Once upon a time, there was a young woman named Emilie.  Although she was engaged to be married and had friends and a family who loved her, she didn’t really understand why anyone would want to be around her.  She knew she was boring and had very little to offer, and she couldn’t figure out why no one else seemed to see this.  She called herself a runner, but she ran so infrequently that in reality, she felt it was sort of fake of her to tell people she ran at all.  Most of the time she felt a little embarrassed when people would ask her about running, because she knew she was such a phony and it was just a matter of time before other people started seeing that as well.  Often people would tell her she was being too hard on herself with things, at which point she would wonder what they were talking about.  ‘They must be trying to be nice to me, to make me feel better about what a failure I am’, she would think.  She was scared to listen to them, because she didn’t think she deserved to feel good about anything she did.  She was also scared that if she did start to feel good, something would happen that would remind her how lame she was, and she’d feel even worse than she did before.”

It’s a pretty unhappy story, and the thing is that it’s based entirely on what I think and feel.  It gives absolutely no credit to reality or to what others might say.  It’s the story of someone whose thoughts and perceptions are flawed because she is seeing things through such a negative lens, not of someone who actually has all these things wrong with her.

What I need to do is re-write the story I tell myself, and focus on making it more honest.  Now, maybe the honest version doesn’t end with ‘and she lived happily ever after’.  But it’s very likely that it would be more uplifting than the story above.  It would probably be something like, “Once upon a time, there was a young woman named Emilie.  She had a fiancé, friends, and a family who loved her very much, and she loved them back.  She enjoyed running, yoga, and writing, and maintained a blog that had put her in touch with a community she really valued.  Every now and then, she would have days when she felt pretty miserable.  On those days, she would really struggle with feeling good about herself, and the idea that she had any worth as a person.  Sometimes she felt so bad it was difficult for her to get out of bed or do the things she loved, or seek out interaction with the people whose company she enjoyed.  Rather than let this color her whole life, though, she worked hard to remind herself that even though she sometimes felt depressed, she was not her depression, and it would never define who she was.  This always helped her to realize that even though she might sometimes feel like a bad person, she wasn’t, and even though she might not be perfect, that didn’t make her worthless.  Even though it took a fair amount of time and a lot of effort on her part, and a lot of support from the people who cared about her, she finally got to a point where she miserable less and less.  She also felt a lot better about herself in general, and didn’t beat herself up when she didn’t run as many miles in a week as she wanted to.  She learned to appreciate the successes she had in life, and to give herself credit for the things she had accomplished.  Once she started to treat herself better, it became easier and easier for her to feel good about these things!  She would never forget about the times when she felt so despondent, but she would also keep in mind that there was no reason for her to go back to treating herself in a way that perpetuated feeling those feelings of sadness and inadequacy.”

Do you ever think about what kind of story or stories you tell yourself?  Do you find that it helps to try to re-write the story when you’re feeling bad?

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13 comments

  1. The re-writing the story is a brilliant solution. I find that I interpret my reality as pretty negative at times as well. I’m when I’m having down days, I fall into the traps of mind-reading and fortune-telling (assuming I know what people think about me and what they’re actions toward me will be – thanks to DBT for teaching me about those!). I’ve never tried this, but I’m willing to give it a go! Thanks for sharing this approach, and I hope you’re feeling better! (Sundays are my usual “down” day.)

    1. I found DBT (and CBT) to be tremendously helpful! It might be good for me to pull out some of DBT worksheets when I’m having days like yesterday and do a few exercises. And Sundays are, historically, my “down” day as well. I’m not sure why lately I’ve been so down on Saturdays!

  2. I feel very down about my running. I got out and ran today and it did feel great. Then I told all my friends on Facebook, I was going to do a 5K — which is hard for me. Because, I tell myself, I am a pathetic runner. Others of my friends run marathons. But wait! I have to tell myself a different story. I’m doing my best. I’m running and blogging too. Those things make me feel better and I’m going to keep at them. thanks for reminding me to tell myself a more winning story. http://runningaground.wordpress.com/author/mbcoudal/

    1. This is the kind of thing I get down about very easily, too. A lot of things have gotten in the way of my running this month, and I keep comparing myself to others who are running faster and farther than me. It’s a losing game! Like you say, as long as you’re doing your best, that’s what matters.

  3. This is an amazing way to deal with negative thoughts, Emilie. I love it and will use it. Maybe next Saturday you could start the day with something special, to see if it changes the normal course of things.

  4. Try to remember that you like your friends because they are smart people with good taste, and you trust them. If you believe them to be smart, they must be smart enough to spot a fake, so you can’t possibly be a fake. If you believe they have good taste, then you must be awesome. And if you trust them, you have to trust that they love you, regardless of what you tell yourself.

  5. I spent most of last winter in a deep, deep funk. It was a struggle to do anything. I got incredibly behind at school, because I couldn’t get any work done. Every time I sat down to work on a case or a paper an overwhelming panic would set in, and I would be unable to accomplish anything, convinced that I couldn’t possibly do anything right. Eventually, I had to see a therapist. She helped me rewrite the story I was telling myself and identify those things in my life that were distorting my perceptions. I wasn’t a complete fraud who had no business in law school and was never going to find a job. In fact, I was a smart and capable person, but I had trapped myself in a deeply unsatisfying relationship and refusing to recognize it. A year later, I feel like I’m still telling myself a better story. But, black moods are something I’ve struggled with all of my life, so now I try to be vigilant about my thinking, to try and stay on the right track.

    So this is really just to say, I think I know how you feel, and I know how hard it is. You just have to keep trying to be good to yourself.

  6. such an odd thing…i woke up today trying to fight the negative voice in my head, too. i’ve been feeling down lately as well and have also found it difficult to not just give up and sink into the depression i am teetering on. today, as i laid in bed mulling all these negative thoughts in my head (mainly about my weight and appearance and how to better control my food intake. ugh.), the little, usually ignored, positive voice in my head spoke up. it said something like “hey, zoe, negativity is something you CHOOSE. you can CHOOSE to be positive too! you can choose to see how HEALTHY you are now, how you clothes actually FIT. you can choose to see how appreciated you are by your boyfriend, your friends, you family.” sometimes i fail to see the love i am surrounded by and talk myself into believing i am just annoying and not worth anyone’s attention to time. what an awful state of mind to be in.

    though i spent a good fifteen minutes pep-talking myself, i’m still struggling to find happiness today. i think it’s because i went to bed in a sour moor after a difficult evening. but i’m going to try today to be happy. i wish you the best of luck in the same endeavor, emilie. just try to remember this is you’re feeling unable to be happy: YOU ARE WORTHY OF ALL GOOD THINGS. and i LOVE your blog and am so happy to have found it (i check it everyday). you’re honest, which is hard to find sometimes, and you’re a runner no matter how often you run. you never lose that. have a wonderful sunday ❤

  7. Love the “re-write” idea–and it is true! I think that most women have this secret fear that everyone will find out they are a “phony” or a “fake” and that their life isn’t what it seems to be. But in truth, I have found whenever I am vulnerable and people do see beyond the “surface me,” that they embrace and love my flaws. Roni (of GreenLiteBites and Roni’s Weigh”) actually has a blog about that this weekend. Remember you are an amazing person and you are worthy of all life’s blessings…and what you write about yourself (ALL of it) motivates and inspires many people out there like me.

  8. this is a great idea whether it’s yours or nat’s 🙂 i think everyone needs to do this at various points in their life. i’m actually having some tired/bummed/mood right now and not in the mood to write a blog. usually i don’t read/comment on others either but i’m at least making myself do some of that before shutting down for the night.

    as for running – you are a runner! do not be ashamed of yourself for how often you do or don’t run. you’re a runner. you’re hardcore 🙂 ‘nuf said.

  9. I love this article. The story I tell myself all the time is similar to your first one, and people tell me I’m too hard on myself all the time. I’ve at least started to realize they’re right, even if I haven’t stopped doing it yet.

    But I love the idea of rewriting your own story, and I will do it myself.

  10. I stumbled across your blog via Nurture Principles, and this post really spoke to me. We have a lot in common – I’m also an Emily, a runner, and I have struggled for many years with depression and an eating disorder. I think that this idea of re-writing the story you are telling yourself is wonderful and addresses a challenging aspect of both depression and eating disorders. Sometimes it is really hard to believe the new story, isn’t it? I think it is one of the truly insidious things about mental illness; we convince ourselves that somehow we know better or see more clearly than others instead of recognizing that our own perceptions are skewed.

    Anyway, I think that you are truly brave to share your experience. I hope that you can recognize the strength you have.

    1. Hi, Emily! Thanks so much for your comment. I think ‘insidious’ is probably the best word to describe the way those negative voices, whether they are from depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, or any other source, can tear us down. And you’re right, it is *so hard* to believe the new story sometimes. I think that’s one of the things that keeps me blogging, and keeps me honest and open about my experiences–the fact that it makes combatting those negative voices and building up the positive ones a little bit more concrete for me.

      It also always helps to get comments like yours, and to realize that not only am I not the only person who struggles, but that we can all be part of a support network for each other. I hope you’re doing well!!

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