Not too long ago, I was thinking how hard it is to imagine how horrible I felt most of my life. I figured that was a good sign, being so far removed from it. Maybe I would never feel that way again.
But then my girlfriend and I watched a movie called The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Have you seen it? It’s about a boy in ninth grade who gets picked on a lot and how he deals with his depression. It’s much more than that, of course, but that’s the gist. (It’s also a book you can purchase here.)
It’s engrossing and it’s done very well, considering it deals with emotions and teen angst. I won’t ruin the movie for you, but there was one scene toward the end that just did me in. It brought back feelings I haven’t had in more than three years.
I mean, I was sobbing. I wasn’t going to say anything to Lisa, but then I realized I really needed to. In between tears, I told her how that scene brought back some of those awful feelings. In fact, it was done so well that it transported me back in time to one of the many psych units I’ve been in.
It was like déjà vu all over again.
We all come with emotional baggage. Each one of us has been through some really hard shit, and some of it is going to stick with us as we go along our merry way.
It would certainly be awesome if we only had to work on our issues once and then everything would be hunky-dory, wouldn’t it? The associated feelings would morph into acceptance and never come back to haunt us.
Alas, that’s not the case. It may get easier each time we actively accept something, but those moments of clarity can be difficult to come by. They normally require quite a bit of emotional pain and the proverbial slap in the face before we see the light.
Our baggage can really weigh us down. Maybe you are suffocated by shame or guilt, which have handcuffed you for years, maybe even all your life. Maybe it’s fear and anxiety and depression that develop and overwhelm you more often than not.
Talk therapy is a great way to identify and start to address your baggage. For me, therapy was a place where I vomited my feelings to my therapist, hoping that would make me feel better.
In fact, my first three decades in therapy were spent learning the skills necessary and becoming secure enough in myself to look my issues square in the eye.
It’s very important to be able to identify the feelings and thoughts associated with your issues and to dissect them so you can understand yourself and your triggers and grow into a more confident person.
For a long time, I was just a blob of emotions that needed soothing. I had to become stable before I was ready to dive into the deeply rooted issues that are at the core of my depression and anxiety. DBT and TMS allowed me to do that.
FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL
Isn’t it strange how, when you feel one way, it’s hard to even imagine feeling any other way? When I’m feeling good, it’s hard to imagine feeling so desperate, so hopeless that I want to take my own life. It’s hard to believe I ever felt that way.
By the same token, when I have a bad day – or even a bad couple hours – it’s hard to imagine being able to feel better; my thinking becomes very black-and-white. It feels like everything I’ve worked so very hard for just – *poof* – disappears.
I become unable to think clearly. I temporarily forget the skills I learned in DBT. I start to wonder if I’m a big, fat fraud. The negative thoughts jump out of the dark corners of my mind, and I can’t figure out how to stop them.
Do you go through this, too?
Isn’t it frustrating?!
This is often when I start panicking. My body goes into fight-or-flight mode; I get a warm, tingly feeling in my chest, my stomach gets tight, and my heart starts beating faster. I hate when this happens because these are physiological symptoms that are not under my control.
What I CAN control is how I respond to them. Once I recognize the feeling as anxiety, which could lead to a panic attack if I’m not careful, I try to slow my breathing down and I close my eyes (unless I’m driving!).
I also attempt to clear my mind of the negative thoughts that have already started. How? Yeah, that’s the hard part. I did meditation for a while, which helped – but I haven’t gotten back to it.
Instead, I visualize a table chock full of knick-knacks and other crap, and I push it all off in one fell swoop, thus clearing the table/my mind. It kind of helps open the door for more positive thoughts to get through to me. Call me weird, but it works.
I focus on telling myself that it will be okay, just take things one step at a time. Just saying those simple words really helps me ward off the panic attacks and the lingering anxiety.
And then I can breathe again.
But in those moments, even though they don’t last long, it can seem like everything is crashing down around me. It’s like my automatic thoughts, such as “God, I suck!” and “I knew I shouldn’t have done that,” and the like attack me all at once.
Being able to control my thinking is paramount to lessening my anxiety and depression. Like I said, it’s hard at first, and it takes a ton of practice, but it does work. And it is so worth it.
HOW LONG DO I HAVE TO PRACTICE BEFORE IT BECOMES EASY?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Practice makes permanent.
Consider this: you have had years and years – maybe even a lifetime – of negative thoughts blasting you from within. It’s going to take a while to start building those new, positive neural pathways in your brain. You have years of self-defeating and self-sabotaging thoughts to combat. Be patient with yourself.
And trust the process. If you practice telling yourself that it will be okay and putting one foot in front of the other, these things will become tools you can use when life starts getting out of hand.
I recently took on a new learning opportunity, and I’ve been having quite a bit of difficulty getting into a groove with it. Two days ago, I was ready to quit, which would have been bad for me.
I would have given up on myself yet again, and I can’t afford that. I’m in a good place overall, and I need to keep building on that. I simply cannot allow negativity, low self-confidence, and feelings of incompetence and vulnerability to bring me down at this point. I would feel defeated, like I really am broken and damaged.
How did I get past this?
I did some of that clearing of the mind I was talking about. It also helps immensely that I have a lot of support. Someone important to me told me to give myself a break and be patient with myself. I really needed to hear that.
So, instead of quitting, I finished what I was doing, slept on it, and tried again the next morning. Lo and behold, I felt MUCH better! Nothing magical happened (that I know of); I simply gave myself a little breathing room. And instead of making a rash decision that would have negatively impacted my mental health for years to come, I kept going.
And I am so glad I did.
KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON
That is my wish for you today, as well. That you keep going, keep at the hard stuff. Don’t allow it to weigh you down and don’t allow it to convince you that you suck and it’s not worth it and all the crap that goes along with it.
Don’t let your brain convince you that you’ll never get through it. Remember, depression is a disease of the brain. It doesn’t want us to act in our best interests.
Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep taking one breath at a time. If what you’re struggling with is overwhelming you, write down a few steps you can take to make it easier – some things are less overwhelming if taken in bits and pieces. After all, you don’t have to do EVERYTHING today.
And be kind to yourself. If that seems too hard right now, think about getting out of the house for a bit. Take a walk around the block. Go to a drug store and buy your favorite snack. Be nice to the people you meet. That will help you feel better.
Above all else, don’t give up on yourself!
You are worth the struggle. Your mental health can and will improve as long as you keep going. I know it can be so hard, but keep going anyway. You will come through the other side.
As always, thanks for reading. And remember to Keep it Real out there!
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