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?