The death of Robin Williams has got the world talking. How could someone who seemed so happy and was so full of joy have been so depressed?
Well, the thing is, the people who are the best at entertaining and being funny are often the saddest. There are different types of defenses to keep people from getting to know the real you- and humor is one of them. Depression is a horrible, horrible thing. It’s touched the lives of many people I love and it is just as debilitating as any other type of chronic illness.
I know that depression and low self esteem are different issues, but depression causes irrational thoughts about one’s self and their lack of worth. Loving yourself and knowing you have worth is one small step on the road to recovery from depression. And every person, no matter how different and unique, is worthy of love and respect.
This post is a bit of a departure from my regular subject matter, but I was feeling motivated to write it. It’s easy for me to open up on this blog because if my story and words can help someone or make them laugh or have a little more positivity in their life, it’s worth it.
In my struggles with chronic illness, I have come out the other side a more positive and self-loving person. Any kind of battle in someone’s life can cause important self-discovery and can motivate people to change or learn more about themselves. And that has certainly been true for me. Everyone has insecurities, and I’m certainly no exception, but I know who I am and I love who I am.
That hasn’t always been true. I was a pretty insecure teenager, especially because of dealing with chronic illness. Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) encouraged denial in my teenage self. I had grown up a very energetic child, and my lack of energy and chronic pain and dizziness caused me to be unable to do a lot of the things I loved most. I could barely dance anymore or do other things I loved. I thought that those things defined who I was. So I denied that it was bad for me to do those activities and pushed myself to try and continue because I couldn’t deal with changing my idea of who I was. And every time I couldn’t dance or do things I loved, I told myself that I was doing something wrong.
Well, eventually reality settles in, and it got to a point where I physically could not dance anymore. I could barely make it out of bed. And so facing that reality forced me to reexamine my identity. Without being a dancer, I was just a kind of awkward shy nerd. And that’s what I told myself. And the nerd part was even in question because I couldn’t keep up with my schoolwork. I told myself that those qualities were not good enough and let myself be defined by POTS. I saw myself as a sick awkward shy girl. And I didn’t think that was good enough.
I was forced to reexamine why I thought being a dancer was my only interesting or positive quality. Really, how crazy is that? It isn’t what is unique to me. Lots of people are dancers. Sure, it’s pretty cool and a really fun thing to do, but it wasn’t who I was. Since I couldn’t go about the routine of my life I had to look into myself and find out who I was outside of that routine. And I recommend everyone does that.
Over time I’ve refined my sense of self. Sure I’m still awkward, and definitely nerdy, but I have a lot of other stuff going for me. I’m very creative. I’m fiercely loyal to the people I love. I’m quite smart and I’m kind and empathetic. I’m strong and flexible. I love learning. I love food. I love making things with my hands and creating new things. I could continue on this list for a long time. I’m not pigeon holed and I don’t rely too much on thinking of myself as any one of these things.
So, now that you’ve got a little bit of my story, here are some things that I do to love myself more.***
1. Listen to your compliments, and forget the critics
In college I had a journal where I wrote down all the positive compliments I had gotten from people and myself, and accomplishments I was proud of. When I felt down, I looked at that journal to remind myself how awesome I really am. I think everyone should try this at least once in your life. We are programmed to remember critical things that people say about us and we easily let those overshadow compliments. When you write them down so you can’t forget them and see them all in once place, you can drown out your critics much more easily.
If you need a jump start, ask people you are close to to come up with three words to describe you or your three best qualities. I did this once when I was preparing for an interview to help me brainstorm, and it was the best positive bombardment. It felt really good to have people remind me about the things that are awesome about me.
2. Challenge your irrational thoughts
This is easier said than done. The person who helped me with this most was the therapist I saw when I was in high school. When I said something irrational, she called me out on it and taught me to question the logic of my thoughts. I’m a very logical person, so that strategy worked for me.
So with any negative thoughts you are having about yourself, take a step back. Every time a negative thought pops into your head, think about why you think it. Take yourself step through step about what made you think that negative thought and look carefully for flaws. Think about all the evidence that contradicts it.
If you are thinking to yourself when you read this, “None of my thoughts are irrational. All the things I think are true.” then you might need help recognizing irrational thoughts. A therapist can help you learn to recognize irrational thoughts. Don’t fool yourself into believing all your thoughts are rational. That is not true of one human on this planet. You have at least one irrational thought or belief floating around in there. If not, take me to your leader, because there is no way you came from this planet.
Besides challenging irrational thoughts and beliefs, creating positive thoughts will help crowd them out. Which brings me to my next strategy…
3. Practice positive self talk
This goes hand in hand with challenging irrational thoughts. You also need to tell yourself how great you are. It may feel weird at first, but fake it until you make it. When you are proud of something, remind yourself over and over and over how proud you are. When you feel good about something, remind yourself over and over. Who needs other people to compliment you when you can compliment yourself?
One of the ways to accomplish this easily is to change the words to a song that is stuck in your head to be positive about you. You can’t help but sing those songs in your head over and over. So instead of singing in your head, “turn down for what” sing, “I really rock” to the same tune. Once the night before a final I was very nervous for, I was having trouble sleeping. So I wrote myself a song in my head about how I was going to kick butt on the final and I sang it over and over in my head until I fell asleep. And it totally made me less nervous. Our thoughts are very powerful.
No one can convince you how awesome you are as well as yourself.
4. Be empathetic to others
It’s easy to be hard on yourself if you are hard on everyone. I’m willing to bet my savings account that you, person who is reading this, have gone through a struggle in your life. Probably more than one. And there is probably something you are struggling with right now. A lot of people might not know about it, but that doesn’t make it any less real. People probably can’t see that struggle just by looking at you or meeting you for a few minutes.
Does the above paragraph resonate with you? It does with me.
Because everyone in life has an invisible battle they are dealing with that is very real and difficult. As people we adapt and survive, but we fight hard. So remember that when you are dealing with other people. Forgive someone for making a mistake and assume everyone has good intentions. The more empathy you have for others, the more empathy you will have for yourself. Trust me, you won’t be able to help it.
Being kind to and helping others has been proven to increase one’s sense of self worth. Trust me on this one. It’s science.
5. Accept things you cannot change
There is no point in beating a dead horse. Some things in life you cannot change. For some people, it’s that one family member who is never going to see eye to eye with you. For others, it’s their weight. For others, it’s a physical characteristic. Everyone has something.
For me, it is my illness. I can’t change that I have POTS. I can manage it and try to make my lows a bit higher with different treatments, but unless a cure is found I’m not getting rid of it. And I don’t delude myself into thinking that there will be a cure any time soon, or maybe even ever.
Like I’ve already mentioned, I was in denial about POTS at first. I wanted to just try and pretend that it didn’t limit me in any way. Accepting that I am going to live with it is one of the most freeing experiences I’ve had. It doesn’t drag me down, it is just simply a part of how I will shape my life, and it makes me a more flexible and much more creative person.
So stop seeing things you can’t change as an obstacle and see them just as part of life. Adapt to them. Realize that life almost never works out how you will imagine it, and some of the best parts of life are things that are unexpected. When you stop trying to change everything and start accepting and adapting to it, you will definitely love yourself more. After all, you’ve developed a new skill and freed yourself from fighting an impossible battle.
6. Know your limits and learn to say no
How many of you have that one friend or co-worker who always seems to be doing a million things and everyone relies on them and they are always stressed out to the brink of breaking point? We’ve all met at least one. And it isn’t fun to be that person.
Everyone has limits. Maybe they are mental, maybe they are physical, maybe they are time or financial constraints. Think about yours. Limits are not a bad thing. In fact, without them, you would have too many choices and never know what to do with yourself! (Just think of every magical immortal character in a movie ever).
Practice pushing yourself and find out what your limits are. And then remember them. Write it down if you have to. If you know something in life is going to push you past those limits, don’t do it! Of course, there are exceptions, because every once in a while it is okay to push your limits a little. But in general, stick within your limits. You will be so much happier taking better care of yourself and not always being pulled in a million directions.
If you don’t listen to them now, they will come back to bite you in the future. Believe me. Maybe that will be going into horrible debt, or having a relapse in your treatment, or reentering a depressive cycle. You want to avoid those things. Deal with it today to avoid the catastrophe.
7. Let go of negative influences in your life
I surround myself with only a few select close friends and family. My circle is small, but it is the most supportive circle I could have made for myself. I do this by choice.
If there is someone in your life who makes you unhappy, don’t waste your energy on them. I see so many people trying to cling to relationships that only cause them drama and negativity. Why not focus on someone else more positive instead? Everyone deserves rewarding relationships.
This isn’t easy for everyone to do. Start by distancing yourself someone negative in your life that isn’t particularly close to you, and you will see just how much easier it is to be positive without them, even in a small way. When you are ready, apply that to the biggest negative influences around you. If it is someone you cannot avoid, like a family member, you have to learn to take their company with a grain of salt and disregard their negativity.
Your life will be so much less stressful without people that make you unhappy.
8. Stop trying to make everyone else happy, start trying to make yourself happy
If you try to make everyone happy, no one will be happy. It’s impossible. Different people want different things.
It’s not a bad thing to consider other people’s happiness. Being a considerate, caring, and empathetic person is a great thing! Just don’t make their happiness your responsibility. You can’t juggle multiple other people’s happiness and your own too. Focus on you. What makes you happy? Take a lot of time introspecting about this, and strive for it. This doesn’t mean you should hurt other people or make other people unhappy. Just remember that only you can control your own happiness and it is the same for every person.
So make choices in life based on what makes you happy. It’s your life, after all. If you are making choices to make other people happy it just won’t work out for you. Make them for yourself, and other people will recognize that it is the right choice when you radiate your joy.
9. Forget about the concepts of failure and success
We have a tendency as humans to compare things as two opposite poles. Who says that failure and success are opposites, or mutually exclusive? Who says that those are the only two options? This is one irrational thought that everyone should practice challenging. We accept failure and success as givens. Take a step back and question those two concepts.
Stop telling yourself that these are the only two results in life. No one is either a failure or success, and everyone is something in between that has elements of both. So don’t be scared to fail, and don’t strive to succeed. Failure and success are unattainable. Find a different goal. Make a goal to work on being happy, or be a positive influence in someone’s life, or to compliment three people a day, or anything other than failing or succeeding. Make a goal that is enjoyable and focuses on process more than outcome. Outcomes are hollow.
Remember that it is the journey and not the outcome that really matters. Along the way you learn lessons and form memories and meet people and have real experiences. Focus on the process and the journey. Who cares about an outcome if you hurt people on your way there? The real fun and meaning in life is in the process.
10. Get to know all the pieces of yourself
This is a crucial element. After all, how can you love yourself if you don’t know yourself?
Spend time with you. Put down the phone, turn off the TV, and hang out in your brain for a while. As long as you can handle without going crazy. This is easier for some people than others. If you can’t take it right away, ease into it by reading books. Think of how you relate to the characters and it will help you with self discovery.
If you make the mistake that I made as a teenager and define yourself by only one facet of you, this is your chance to broaden your sense of self. Get to know the parts of you you haven’t spent much time with. Challenge yourself and try new things to see if you like them. Have fun with yourself. You’re gonna find out that you are even more interesting, deep, and awesome than you realized.
So… in conclusion:
YOU- yes, I’m talking to you, are worthy of everything you want in life. You are worthy of love from yourself and others. You are the only person like you in the world. You are pretty darn awesome, and don’t forget it. Love yourself.
***I in no way mean for this article to serve as professional advice because I am not a mental health professional. I am just someone who uses these strategies to help love myself more. Try them for yourself, but if you are really struggling with depression or anxiety or any kind of mental illness, there is no replacement for a trained therapist. Therapy is awesome if you find the right therapist for you, and the right one will help you come up with these kinds of strategies that are customized for you.
If you need help finding a therapist, here are some resources to help:
- Psychology Today Therapist Locator
- APA Psychologist Locator
- Find a Mental Health America Affiliate
- Mental Health Treatment Facility Locator