The truth is, you’re a freaking badass.
One of the only things that’s getting me through these days is reading stories from other people that are going through similar things, and gaining strength from their vulnerability. I read stories of people who are experiencing fear and hurt and depression and anxiety and shame and loneliness and heartache and hope… and as I read them, I feel both seen and understood. I feel related to, even if the person who wrote that story has no idea who I am.
So that’s what I’m here to do. I’m here to share my story. It’s not a very pretty story right now, but my goal isn’t to be pretty. My goal is to show up. Even if that means it’s hard or painful or raw. I’m showing up.
Of course, for me, showing up has been tough. No, not tough. Almost impossible. It’s hard to show up when you don’t particularly want to be seen.
In the last month especially, I’ve been feeling bitter, judgmental, critical (especially of myself), reactionary, overwhelmed, tired, short-fused, empty, easily irritated… I mean, as far as negative emotions go, you name it, I’ve felt it. Not exactly the recipe for “good company.” I’m consistently surprised when my family, partner, or friends give me grace for my mistakes, as well as consistently skeptical by the fact that they still want to hang out with me.
Under normal circumstances, I’m usually pretty good at watching my emotions, and then peeling back the layers to figure out where they’re coming from before I react. Lately, however, my entire world has been consumed by the singular emotion I’m most immediately experiencing at the time: Anger. Bitterness. Sadness. Whatever it might be. It’s not as though I can’t access any world beyond that emotion. It feels as though there is no other world.
The thing with depression is it significantly inhibits one’s abilities to work through a problem. I’ve been so foggy-minded for the last few months, it’s literally felt like a bad weed hangover every single day… except without the weed. It’s really difficult to sort through what I’m feeling or what I’m thinking; answers that would normally be obvious are completely elusive; and unless I write a thought down, I will almost immediately forget it. Typically, I would journal to help myself process, but even that felt too immense a task.
Until today. Finally, I sat down, and I wrote. There’s a lot of data to support how much clarity comes, or even just relief, when you get it (whatever “it” is) out of your head and onto paper. For a long time, I had felt too heavy to even lift a pen, but finally, one day, I took my coffee out onto the back deck and put on paper my most immediate (and consistently baffling; I almost never feel this way) emotion: Bitterness.
Then, the time it took to just write it down gave me space to think, “So where does bitterness come from?”
Out of nowhere, the next layer came up: insecurity. (Which perhaps might have seemed obvious to someone else, but not to someone struggling with depression.)
Then, as soon as I named not only what I was feeling, but the root of it, I found myself finding language for what had been previously inaccessible:
Fears that my partner would grow tired of supporting me, and leave.
Fears that friends I confide in will get tired of listening. Which, I would tell myself, they would never say, of course. They would eventually simply start to get exhausted by the negative energy, and slowly withdraw.
Fears that others will be dismissive, or they won’t understand, or they’ll think I’m being disingenuous.
Fears that they won’t have space for me.
Fears that there isn’t space for me.
As though there is a scarcity of Love out there. As though, if I don’t do or say the right thing, they will take their love away and give it to someone more deserving. As if their love is… Ah.
When I catch myself thinking those things, I quickly try to reaffirm that true love is unconditional, that I’m doing my best and so should give myself grace for my mistakes, and that if people want to pull away because they can’t handle my pain, then they aren’t meant to be in my life (nor, perhaps, do they deserve to be).
However, depression being the sticky monster that it is, my positive affirmations don’t stop the negative self-talk from creeping in any way. It doesn’t stop those feelings of “not enough” from arising as I make up stories about what others will be capable of handling, and how much love they have to give. I don’t like that I’m thinking these thoughts, and I know they’re not to be trusted. But a lie can feel just as real as the truth, and when something feels real, it’s hard not to believe it.
Still, I fought it. I asked myself, “Okay, well when would I be enough, then? What would ‘enough’ look like? Feel like?”
And then, naturally, what followed was a stream of images of times I felt I wasn’t enough. This is because it’s easier for our brains to describe what something isn’t than to describe what it is. Especially if we’re dealing with complicated or difficult emotions. So what does enough look like? I asked myself. This is how I replied:
I missed filing unemployment for weeks because I’ve been so overwhelmed and kept putting it off, and as a result, I just had to start the process all over again and have missed out on weeks’ worth of vital payments. I found out one of my friends was going through an incredibly difficult time, too, and I haven’t so much as reached out. I don’t respond to lighthearted texts. I don’t call that friend back. I keep forgetting to make sure my mom elevates her leg enough after surgery. I’m judging that person who confided in me rather than accepting them. I’m not showing up in the way my partner needs.
After seeing those examples on paper, it was like seeing a map of shame. I sank into my body, into those memories, and realized that, somewhere along the way, I’d started to measure my self-worth in external behaviors; I’d started to associate my identity with those behaviors — in what I did, or didn’t do — rather than in who I was at my core.
In doing so, I’ve been giving myself permission to make conclusions about who I am as a person based on my behavior, rather than giving myself grace in light of my struggles. I’ve been validating every flaw, while ignoring or diminishing the significance of every success, intention, or righted wrong, and feeling more and more disconnected from myself as a result.
In my depression, I’ve felt so distanced from myself — from my passions, my inner child, even my curiosity — that to sense an even deeper loss of self occurring, but not to know why, was sort of terrifying. It had already been harder to empathize with or support others, to actively listen (I have to focus extra, extra hard on concentrating to stay in the moment), to be creative, to ask questions, etc. As I felt the rift deepening between who I’ve been in the past vs. who I am now, I started to feel smaller and smaller.
As with I think all of us, when I feel small, I start acting out of fear. I start saying or doing things I regret, I lose control over my emotions and my actions, and everything requires three times as much effort to accomplish.
To realize I’d been shaming myself on top of all of that for something completely out of my control — my depression — was eye-opening. I’m battling something every single day, actively working to heal myself, literally doing everything I can to not let it win, and I was shaming myself?
I could do better than that. I had to. I wasn’t sure how just yet, but at least becoming aware of my shame meant that I could work to counteract it in the future. I could work to ground my identity in something far more substantial, meaningful, and kinder than my behaviors when I’m in a dark place, and I could actively practice self-compassion as a weapon against the shame.
So that’s what I’m doing right now. It’s an arduous, complicated journey, but I’m showing up.
I’m not sure if you, as you read this, have experienced any of these things, or are perhaps experiencing them right now. But if you are, you are not alone. I get it. It’s tough.
Actually, it’s exhausting.
But you know what? We’re here. We’re freaking doing it. And that requires an immense amount of strength and resilience. No matter how weak you feel, or how insecure, or insignificant… whatever it might be, you have no idea just how strong you are until you’re actually put into this sort of immensely challenging position, and your endurance gets tested. And you being here is a huge testament to just how amazing and brave and courageous YOU are.
I know you might not feel strong. Perhaps even putting that label on you makes you feel like you have to live up to something, which is in itself exhausting. I get that. I feel it too. But that doesn’t negate the fact that what you’re going through right now is insanely difficult, and yet you’re here, showing up — which not only requires an insane amount of strength, it demands it.
Way to go, you badass.
I know that, sometimes, no matter how many people tell you positive or empowering things, depression doesn’t exactly always give you the ears to listen. I might know in my head that the kind things people tell me about myself are true, but when my self-compassion is at an all-time low, those words just sort of roll off the surface like rain on a windshield. They can’t seep in.
So what I’ve determined is that my job now is to do whatever I can to ensure that my heart is less like a plate of glass and more like a plot of soil. I want those soothing words to sink deep into my bones. I want to allow them to nourish me and help me grow, and I want to be able to believe them. I want them to help life spring forth again, and feel uplifted, empowered, and worthy of taking up space.
Part of helping to cultivate a heart that can do all those things is through this… putting my words out there so that they’re not stuck inside. For me, it’s a part of meditating. I’m identifying the source of my shame, and releasing myself of the bondage of criticism and doubt. I’m actively affirming my own badassery in getting up every day and, despite my depression, doing what needs to get done. I’m battling the lies of depression with weapons of beauty, truth, love, and compassion.
Oh, and I started therapy. That’s helping too.
As necessary as community and support are when you’re going through a hard time, I also believe it’s just as necessary (if not moreso) to know that you have the ultimate power to change the stories you tell yourself.
Author, inspirational speaker, and all-around incredible human, Elizabeth Gilbert, says that taking care of her mental health is her #1 priority, and full-time job. She often spends 5 hours a day specifically on her mental health alone, and it’s through doing so that she’s able to walk through the world wholeheartedly, rather than being crippled by depression.
So the thing I know? You have to do the work in order to get to where you want to be, which means you have to be willing to be vulnerable with yourself. Don’t worry, I get it — vulnerability can be (read: is almost always) terrifying. But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that vulnerability is also the only way to heal.
So keep being brave, my friends. Keep fighting. And give yourself more love and grace and compassion than you think you need. It’ll pay off, I promise.