Taking Self-Talk from Lethal to Life-Affirming

August 29, 2014 at 3:11 pm Leave a comment

by Cynthia Evans, ECNV Director of Community Services

Robin Williams

Robin Williams

Like many, I was saddened by the recent death of Robin Williams. I won’t attempt to speak to what he experienced in his last days. But I felt the need to share some thoughts and what helps me manage my depression.  Everyone’s experience is different.

Part 1

It can happen any day of the week, any time of the year, regardless of my job, my relationships, or my finances. On average, it strikes 20-30 times a year. I open my eyes in the morning, do a mental rundown of my day… and can find no good reason for getting out of bed. Or to keep living. The thoughts run something like this…

“I’m so tired. I feel like such a failure. I was supposed to be so much further along in life by now. I’m glad my parents didn’t live to see me at this place in life. It takes so much energy just to keep a job and a roof over my head. Every time I make plans to move forward, I self-sabotage. Ever since I was a kid, people have said I’m my own worst enemy. Guess they were right…”

Or it may take the form of reliving multiple traumas from my younger years. Childhood neglect, abuse, homelessness, assaults, the death of my parents, dreams unrealized, opportunities wasted. The combined weight of these events overwhelms me. I can’t stand being Cynthia anymore; it hurts too much. I want out.

This is glimpse of what depression looks like for me. It’s like physical and emotional weight I cannot lift combined with a whispers in my ear to not bother trying. Some days I literally can’t get out of bed or get dressed, let alone put in a productive day’s work.

When days like this happen, I have tools I use to get moving and push forward.

An important key I learned in my thirties was to watch my self-talk. Negative self-talk during a depressive episode can be fatal for me. The longer I let it go on, the stronger the case against me becomes. As my mind keeps coming up with “evidence” of my lack of worth, the depression deepens. Negative self-talk produces negative emotions which spur even more condemning self-talk. I tell myself, “I need to get help. I can’t fight this alone.” Which is followed by, “why bother other people with my problems? I’ll just end up back in this place again later.”

Part of my mental health recovery is using tools from my wellness toolkit to help guide me out of this darkness. These are the ones that work for me. Other people have their own.

First are recovery slogans. I find these three especially helpful:

“Feelings are not facts.”

“Fear is ‘False Evidence Appearing Real.’ ” and

“Take the action and the feelings will follow.”

These are reminders to not trust thoughts that steer me away from taking positive actions. The last quote is especially helpful for me. I don’t have to feel like getting out of bed or getting to work or making a phone call. I just need to move.

Okay, so now that I have made it out of the house or have at least started the coffee pot, I reach out to friends in who are also recovering from a variety of physical and psychological illnesses, compulsions, and traumatic events. People who are part of my support system, who know me well and with whom I’ve shared what to do when I’m in this place.

I call “Brian”, for example, who has known me for 10 years. He knows depression or even suicidal thoughts are not necessarily a cue for a pep talk. Sometimes I just need to feel heard. Sometimes it helps to get out of myself and hear what’s going on with him. To be reminded that I’m not the only one dealing with something heavy right now.

Ironically, even at my most depressed, my friends will ask for my opinion on a problem they are having. Helping them work through issues can boost my mood tremendously. What’s really cool is when my suggestions apply to my own circumstances. My friends never fail to make this point when it happens. At times I’ve wondered if they set me up for it. They plead the Fifth Amendment.

Another tool I use is called “bookending.” As someone with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), lack of concentration and procrastination are constant battles. Bookending helps me get things done, or, in the case of a major depressive episode, helps me make progress with simple tasks that seem overwhelming. This is how it works:

  1. I call someone in my support network and tell them what I need to do but don’t want to do. It could be eating lunch before 5:30, or working on my spending plan, or checking in before a potentially stressful meeting.
  2. I state how I’m feeling, how much time I’m allowing myself, and exactly what I will accomplish.
  3. Then I commit to calling back and reporting on my progress (usually within an hour or later in the day). If I don’t finish or hit an unexpected roadblock, I do it again with the same or a different person.

The moment I decide to ask for help, the negative self-talk can kick into high gear. “What am I, a six year-old?” “I’m a grown woman who can’t do something as simple as _____________ without leaning on other people.” “I’m pathetic.”

What’s really powerful is having the willingness to say these things out loud when asked how I’m feeling. Two things become immediately clear:

  1. These are angry words spoken by someone from my childhood who had no idea how much damage they were causing.
  2. I would never, under any circumstances, say these things to another person. Not even someone I despised.

As long as the self-talk stays in the dark recesses of my depressed brain matter, it can grow, fester, and feed on itself. Just bringing these thoughts into the light breaks their power over me.

Click here to read Part 2. 

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Entry filed under: Health, Uncategorized.

2014 NCIL March and Rally Taking Self-Talk from Lethal to Life-Affirming: Part 2

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