Why do we blame ourselves for having depression? How did you possibly have anything to do with the chemical balance in your brain? How can you change what is inherent in your family? How could you have controlled when you were really young the things that went on in your troubled childhood, which changed the way that you think? How could you limit or restrict the atrocities that you saw fighting in a war that impacted you so much to trigger depression? How is any of this your fault? And yet you blame yourself. Something totally irrational in you believes that you deserve this. If you broke your leg, would you argue that your deserve it? The chances are not. How is depression different? It is just an illness like every other illness out there. For some reason because we can’t see it or put our finger on it, it becomes elusive and difficult to understand. It is therefore difficult to challenge or beat, and the easiest solution is to simply blame ourselves.
The real difficulty arises when we do not accept that depression is an illness and that we are afflicted by it. If you never acknowledge that you have a mental illness, you will always blame yourself for feeling as down as you do, and things will spiral out of control. You have to get to the root cause as to why you are inclined to feel so gloomy and accept it. You also need to accept who you are as a product of this illness.
I would be lying to you if I were to say that I do not get upset when someone calls me weird or crazy or a fruitcake. It really hits a nerve and I find it very difficult to not snap back at people and tell them to stick it where the ‘sun don’t shine’! But I am starting to accept and acknowledge that I am a little weird, but that’s ok because that is who I am. I can be incredibly insecure, can think too much and as a result appear to be quite intense around a person which ultimately scares them away. But this is ok, as everyone has their weaknesses.
If you do not accept that you have the illness, that there are going to be days when you feel like you are having to tread water with a ball and chain attached to your ankle, and that you may be a little quirky as a result of the illness, you will end up hating yourself. You will end up judging yourself and being too hard on yourself, and consequently will feel very unhappy indeed. For such a long time I have judged myself and as a result felt judged by other people. I have been so hard on myself and this has only caused me hurt, upset and anxiety. What I just need to do is accept that this is the card that I was dealt, I am who I am and people can either love it or hate it.
What also happens if we do not cut ourselves a bit of slack and acknowledge that we live with a mental illness? We try desperately to be someone who we are not. I have tried my hardest to take a care free approach to life and to not think too much but I simply can’t. This is most tangible and evident in relationships I feel. For example, until recently I was dating this absolute doochebag of a guy. I tried my hardest to adopt his outlook to our friendship, relationship, courting whatever you want to label it, but I just couldn’t. I, as a very open person, have to talk and express my fears and doubts to people. In keeping these doubts locked up inside me, trying to play it cool, I eventually just turned out to look like a complete psychotic bunny boiler. Ultimately, you reach a point when you cannot stay quiet anymore and you spurt out all of your thoughts at once, especially when slightly inebriated. This guy ran a mile, more than a mile.
Having this thing, this entity, this chemistry, this shadow, this haze, this cloud, this dark flame living in our brains is like having a demon inhabiting your head. At first it seems overwhelming to manage the unexpectedness and sporadicalness of the demon, but if you try to understand it, you can live harmoniously with it. The trick is to not fight, resent or hate it. Instead we must embrace it. This creature makes us who we are, and if we manage it correctly, there will be days when we will barely even notice its presence. Demon? What demon?
Another trick is to turn this imagined weakness into a solid and impenetrable positive. Try to think hard and dig really deep inside yourself to consider the beautiful parts of your character. What are your strengths? This may be hard for sufferers of depression because we are so convinced that we are so useless, which is why I say dig deep, but I bet you if you do find some endearing qualities, some of what you find will be linked to your depression, and how your mind is wired. For example, a common quality that depressants tend to share is a heightened perception of people, relationships, friendships and things happening around us. This is due to the fact that we think about things from every imaginable angle, and so can consider the reasons why people may be feeling down to a greater extent. We also become accustomed to considering other people’s situations, and therefore pick up on it more frequently and quickly when a situation is occurring. Would you rather coast through life, not really understanding people and the world around you, or would you prefer to see it high definition with awesome 3D spectacles on!
Another positive; whereas people who don’t have depression experience highs and lows (this is a natural cycle of life), the highs and lows that we feel are so much more poignant, and feel even stronger. Yes the lows are terrible and sometimes absolutely unbearable, but our highs are amazing. Folks pay some serious dollar for drugs to reach these kinds of highs and lows. Also, if you can manage the lower times, then your highs will be even higher!
Lesson: Not accepting that you have depression as a product of mental illness and who you are as a consequence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not only do you blame yourself and beat yourself up that you have depression, causing you to feel even more depressed, but you also try to be someone that you are not. In changing yourself, you start to question where you belong, who you are and why people can’t understand you. It becomes tiring to put on an act in front of people, and you basically descend into psychological meltdown or malfunction, again making you feel even more depressed.
You must remember that it is part of you, it is your demon. Live with it, love it, control it, tell it that it is being silly, but never resent it and never blame yourself! This demon is part of you and is what makes you beautiful. It has so many positives to it. You are seriously individual and unique as a result, and you should be thankful to whoever or whatever made us that this demon lives with you.
Have you ever felt anxious when a situation is not going a certain way for you? Have you ever noticed that when uncertainty arises, you feel slightly on edge? Have you ever felt uneasy around somebody if you don’t quite know their intentions or opinion of you? Let me begin by saying that this is totally normal!
As sufferers of depression, we can pretty much be certain that we will say ‘yes’ to at least one of the questions above. I may have explained why this is in previous blogs, but just to refresh your memories, let me explain myself. Individuals who have depression, as has been scientifically proven, have an over-active amygdala. This is a part of the brain that is responsible for processing emotions and plays a key role in dealing with fear and anxiety. Since our amygdala is over-active, generally we tend to feel our emotions, and indeed our anxiety to a greater extent than a non-sufferer of the disease. When we feel this uneasiness increasing in our bodies, we subsequently try to understand why we are feeling this way, due to our natural propensity to over-think, and dwell upon or analyse our emotions. This causes a vicious circle because, according to Edward Watkins in Psychology Today, ‘Rumination [over-thinking] worsens mood and promotes negative thinking: In experimental studies, encouraging people to ruminate by asking to think about self-related topics – like how tired or alert they feel – exacerbates any pre-existing sadness and makes thinking more negative’. Apply this to anxiety now. In continuously asking ourselves why we feel so anxious – perhaps we question how a friend or family member may react to news we have, or maybe we are getting to know someone romantically and are utterly uncertain as to how or if the potential relationship will develop – our thinking becomes so negative and we become paranoid about how we will be perceived in future similar situations due to the damning answers (most of which tend to be totally ridiculous) that we think we have found. This, in turn, causes us to try to control a situation to limit the feeling of dread.
We may try to control a situation by choosing not to see someone, or deciding not to pursue a potential love interest for fear of getting attached with so much uncertainty ahead, or we may even ask people difficult and inappropriate questions because we cannot live with the not-knowing of where we stand with them. Furthermore, even if by controlling a situation we are forcing a negative outcome, as long as this very outcome provides a definite and clear-cut answer for us, we feel calm because there is no uncertainty, there are no grey areas.
What happens however when we try to control a situation? What happens when we try to make a situation black and white? The answer is that we potentially sabotage and sever relationships and friendships. We can shy away from social situations, causing us to lose connections with people, we can try to force a certain outcome in a situation through what we say or do, which causes people to deem us as untrustworthy or manipulative, or we wear a mask to avoid feeling anxious and we act a more confident person than we really are, causing us to become disingenuous with ourselves. This puts other people on edge, and therefore they become anxious around you, and do not wish to socialise with or see you. This again puts a lot of pressure on relationships and our bonds with other people.
What do we need to do therefore to avoid all of this? Firstly, we must recognise that it is totally natural to feel anxious and, as a result, want a situation to be black and white. Secondly, before entering into a situation that we know will make us feel anxious, we must accept that life is full of grey areas, and sometimes there are going to be moments of uncertainty. Finally take a deep breath in (or perhaps a few) and say to yourself, ‘I accept these grey areas, I acknowledge that my anxiety is with me at this present moment, I should not try to control this situation, so instead I will sit with this anxiety until it gently dissipates, I will embrace the grey areas.