Self-esteem challenge: Day 12

This blog challenge was developed by If you missed the introduction or want to see a summary of all the questions, go here.

Day 12:
If you could change something about your personality, what would it be and why?
What’s the last thing you did that made you feel proud of yourself? Why did it make you feel this way?

I’m starting to feel like I’ve answered some of these questions already…. Anyway, I have always wished I were a more passionate person. Sometimes I feel like there is something standing in the way of me really enjoying something or really caring about something. My husband is a very passionate person, I admire that about him. Within the first few conversations, anyone who meets my husband will know that he loves Batman, wildlife, Coca Cola and Aerosmith. These are his favourite things, but there’s more to it than that. There’s an enthusiasm behind it. I don’t really know how to describe it. It’s like he is inspired by them, maybe. He knows all about them and can spend hours getting to know more or experiencing more. I don’t have anything like this. Sure, I have favourite things, but there is no drive behind them like there is with hubby. Everyone knows I have a sweet tooth and like cake, but there’s no passion to it. It’s not like I bake or decorate them or try exotic flavours. I pretty much eat the same type of cake every time I want a treat. I enjoy drawing, the blogging world knows that, but it’s something I often have to force myself to do. Eventually I get going, but there is no enthusiasm to it. I don’t know if this is a personality trait or if my medication has numbed all the passion out of me.

zen batman

The last thing I did that made me feel proud of myself was comps. This was late last fall. Comps, or comprehensive exams, are a must for Ph.D. students. Basically you have to prove that you have what it takes to do a Ph.D. dissertation. My comps consisted of four questions from four experts in fields that were similar to mine, but not the same. My field is low vision and I was asked questions on certain vision research technology, age-related hearing loss, molecular biology of macular degeneration and genetics of retinitis pigmentosa (tunnel vision). I had to write 10 page papers on three of them, answer the fourth in a power point presentation and then do a presentation defending my research proposal. I opted to do my genetics question as a presentation. There was no way the answer to that question would have fit in 10 pages! The question itself was almost a page long! Anyway, the presentations went well. I got a sneaky thumbs up from my supervisor when the rest of the panel wasn’t looking. The molecular paper was ok, but it was the other two papers I was really proud of. I felt I had taken topics that I knew little about and told a cohesive story. My supervisor even mentioned publishing them! I actually felt like maybe I did deserve to be where I was. I knew what I was doing and didn’t feel like an imposter. Part of comps is finding out if you can find information, but you can’t just regurgitate what others have already said. You have to put it together and tell your own story, offer an opinion and insight for future research. I felt I did a really good job of that on those two papers.


Is it possible to have depression and be an empath? Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another because you’ve experienced what they have or you can put yourself in their shoes. It is not the same as sympathy which is more like acknowledging someone’s emotional hardships and comforting them. Depression is often defined as emptiness and a loss of interest in life. How can someone who has trouble feeling their own emotions experience the emotions of others so acutely? Several studies show that people with mental illness are unable to experience empathy. This makes sense to me.

What doesn’t make sense to me is the way I react to other people’s situations. Sad movies are just not an option. They are just too upsetting. There was an election here recently and the party I didn’t want to gain power was crushed. It was brutal, the party leader even lost her seat. Instead of being relieved and happy that the people I voted for won, I was busy feeling bad for the woman who lost. The devastation she must have been feeling seemed unbearable. Something happened to an online friend recently, that really affected me too. I’ve never even met these people and probably never will. Why does how they are feeling matter so much? Why does it affect me? Home come I can’t feel my own feelings, but I can imagine and experience someone else’s?

The worst case recently has been my husband. He didn’t get a job that he applied for. He didn’t even get into the second round of interviews. This job was a really good opportunity for him to leave teaching and get back into wildlife. He is really not happy teaching. He has to be someone he doesn’t like just to keep his students under control. This year alone, he has been sworn at, shoved and seriously threatened. This wildlife job opportunity had really lifted him up. He had volunteered at this place in his teen years and has plenty of experience working with animals. I thought he was going to get it for sure, but to not even be called for the second round of interviews? Ouch. I was shocked, still am. I feel absolutely sick over it. It’s like all the hope has been sucked out of me and I feel worthless and unappreciated. I should be comforting him and I am trying, but I also feel like I need a big piece of cake. Why do I feel this way? I can understand the shock and feeling bad for him, but feeling hopeless? That’s not my emotion to feel, it’s his.

Does anyone else experience this?

not all scars show drawing

Cake Binge

I like food too much. I rely on sweets, cake in particular, wayyy too much. Cake is what I want when I feel down or have had a stressful day. Cake is what I want to celebrate reaching the end of something or accomplishing something difficult. Is it weird that the answer to everything, good or bad is cake? I want it even when I’m bored. Especially now that I’m watching my calories, I think about food constantly and the urge to binge on sweets of all kinds is really strong. If I hold out and don’t binge, the urge gets stronger, but if I give in and have a piece of cake, I’m afraid I wont be able to stop myself from eating the whole thing. Sometimes I wish I were one of those people who get sick from having too much sugar or dessert that’s too rich. I’m not though. My stomach can handle endless amounts of it.

I love cake

I wish there were more dessert restaurants around here. I think that would help me with portion control. I could go out, pay to have one piece of cake and be done with it. No leftovers to worry about. All the dessert restaurants have slowly closed since I’ve move here though, even the grocery store has stopped making my favourite little treat. It seems like the only way to get my fix is to buy a whole cake these days.

I know eating is addictive. Sugar especially, activates the same dopamine reward pathway in the brain as many addictive drugs. Low levels of serotonin and dopamine, as is the case in depression, can lead to compulsive behaviour, like a binge. The medications I am on are meant to increase dopamine and serotonin. When I don’t take my meds, I end up eating even more. Also, studies have shown that people with stress or anxiety are more prone to reward-seeking behaviour. They end up losing perspective, prioritizing the reward over the regret they’ll feel later. This is definitely me!

Why can’t I stop? I know binge eating is bad for my health and my appearance. Just knowing that should be enough to deter me, but it’s not. What would my fat say if it could talk? How is binge eating helping me? If I were eating for good reasons, what would they be? I know, it’s stupid. There are no good reasons for eating like this. Life would be better without fat and binges. The parts of life that would improve if I dropped to 120lbs are not the parts that keep eating cake. But, if I keep doing something, then there must be a benefit to it, otherwise there would be no reason to do it, right?

I don’t think I’ll be able to stop until I find out what my reason for eating is. What am I trying to fix by eating? Maybe I am trying to get more joy out of life. Eating is something I have to make time for anyway, so I eat junk hoping to fit more joy into my schedule. My time is precious and I feel like I have so much to do that I need to use my time wisely, be productive. Doing something simply for the joy of it is not an option. That’s selfish and inefficient. So I turn eating, something I have to do to survive, into something that gives me joy. This links back to sugar activating the dopamine pathway in the brain which creates the feeling of joy. It also creates the addiction, which just perpetuates the cycle.

Does this make sense at all? It would mean in order to stop eating so much I would have to find a different source of joy. What do you do to to bring yourself joy or make yourself feel rewarded?

When CBT Fails


I like cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). It makes sense. It helps a lot with my anxiety and perfectionist tendencies. The idea is to change false automatic thoughts (cognitive distortions) and make them more realistic, constructive and positive. My favourite method of combating cognitive distortions is looking at reality. What are the facts? What information sustains my conclusion? What is the proof? For example, during the fall, I had my comprehensive exams for my Ph.D. I had to defend my research proposal among other things. I was being really hard on myself and feeling miserable. I was thinking that I was never going to be able to think of all the angles, the experts would find holes in my proposal and think I’m an idiot. The cognitive distortion here is mind reading. I’m assuming I know what the others are thinking and thus being hard on myself and making myself anxious. In reality, I can’t really know what they are thinking. The purpose of these exams is to solve any major problems in my theory before I get started. No one person can think of everything, that’s why there are four different experts coming to evaluate my idea. They probably wont think I’m an idiot either, I’m a student, my purpose is to learn. Besides, I can’t be the worst Ph.D. candidate there ever was. Here, I relied on logic to talk myself down from a situation that I was making myself sick over.

Circle chart colour

Sometimes though, logic isn’t enough, I wish it were.. Something can make all the sense in the world, but when you are depressed it doesn’t matter, logic is not enough to change the way you feel. When I try to apply CBT strategies to depression, it feels empty, like I am lying to myself. I know a lot of my problems come from low self-esteem. Is low self-esteem interchangeable with hating yourself? Right now I really hate myself. I hate myself so much I don’t know how to continue existing. I am overwhelmed with anger towards myself. My skin is crawling with hatred. I can’t bare to look in the mirror or hear my own voice. I hate the things I say and the thoughts I have. I’m too ashamed to go out in public and be seen by strangers, never mind people I actually know.

I know this hatred toward myself is irrational. I am not a bad person, most people say I am kind. I’m not on People magazine’s most beautiful people, but no one calls me ugly, except for myself. I’m not too fat or too thin, I wear the clothes that are right for me. I have friends and people who love me. I have the right number of achievements for someone my age. There is no reason for me to despise myself so, yet I do.

I don’t always hate myself. Sometimes I’m fine and I don’t think about how I feel about myself at all. Other times, this wave of loathing washes over me and all I can do is be angry and/or cry. My logical self knows the way I feel is irrational, so I don’t act on it. I know it will pass and I’ll go back to not thinking about it. I try to use CBT to undo my distorted view of myself, but it feels fake and is not changing the way I feel.Why isn’t the logic enough to make me feel differently?

I don’t know what to do with myself when this happens. I usually try to distract myself somehow. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Eventually, the day ends and I climb in to bed and hope that sleep takes me away from myself.

Do you ever feel this way? What do you do?

The F Word

Not that F word!

There were a lot of F words that could fit my theme. I have talked about friendship and being “fine” recently, so I was thinking of others; fear, flat, fatigue, frustrated, foolish, frantic, furious. All of these are feelings. So there we go, F is for the other dreaded F word, feelings. Depression encompasses a lot of different feelings…or none at all. It’s a bit of a paradox in that sense.

faces of depression

Feelings are mediated by the limbic system in your brain and the autonomic nervous system in your body. Feelings are systemic. They are a whole brain-body reaction. When you panic for example, you are having thoughts of dread and doom, but you body is involuntarily reacting too; a higher heart rate, quickened breathing, sweating, shaking, etc. Every reaction requires a stimulus. Often the stimulus is self-talk or an external event, but it can be unconscious too. Feelings are also influenced by stress. When in a state of stress, your body is already primed for an emotional reaction. That’s why it takes so little to set you off when you are under pressure.

Feelings are subject to suppression. You can actively hide them or hold them in when you feel they are inappropriate for your current environment. Other times they may be unpleasant and its easier to distract your mind and avoid them than deal with them. The psychologist says that because I don’t express my feelings, I end up tired and depressed. Psych also says that by blocking my feelings I give myself anxiety. So it’s my fault I’m anxious and depressed? Thanks a lot. That makes me feel a lot better. I believe the psychologist is partially right, so how do I solve this problem? Identify and express. Easier said than done.

buried under depressionOften I feel overwhelmed by the intensity of my feelings or lack of. I feel buried with no way out. I don’t like to talk about my feelings. Not only is it uncomfortable, but I don’t know how to express what I’m feeling in words. I think I’ve been able to identify the basic feelings I have trouble expressing; anger and sadness. These are very basic emotions, there are probably a whole bunch of more complex emotions mixed in there, but we’d be here forever if I talked about those. So anger and sadness it is!

I have a lot of anger towards myself. I have discovered that is because I am a perfectionist. I am working on that. I hold in my anger towards other people too. I think it’s because I am worried about hurting them (emotionally) or what they will think of me. This is silly because when people are angry with me, they tell me and I’m not hurt and I don’t think any less of them. I have to learn to be more assertive.

I’m not really sure where the sadness comes from. Maybe it’s linked to the anger somehow. More likely I’m just chemically imbalanced. I do feel less of the sadness when I am medicated.

So I have identified my feelings. According to psych, that is half the battle. So now for expression. There are three ways I can think of to express feelings. 1) Talk to someone, 2) write them down, 3) physically discharge them.

For anger, I’m choosing to physically discharge it through exercise. I have done karate in the past and found that sparring helped. Since I can’t go beating up people on the street, I’m going to start exercising more. I plan to get back into doing cardio and maybe some kickboxing on my own.

Sadness is a bit harder to deal with. Since I am awful and using my words, 1) and 2) don’t really work for me. So how do you physically discharge sadness? Crying comes to mind. Sometimes I can cry, sometimes I just can’t. As you can see, I’m still trying to figure this one out. What do you do to manage your feelings?

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