Babble from the Dark Side

I’m in that bad head space again. It really just sneaks up on me sometimes. I was fine this morning and now, I just don’t know how to exist. I keep trying to distract myself but nothing is working. I just hate myself so much. I want to start punching myself in the head or scratching up my wrists. That’s what I deserve. What’s that going to get me though? I’ve done it before. It’ll sting or I’ll just get sore and bruised and I will STILL hate myself. On top of that I’ll feel lame for doing it. Who punches themselves?!

Why am I working so hard on this motivation stuff? Am I hoping that one day it will all magically come together and I wont have to work so hard at it? I’m kidding myself if that’s the case. It’s hopeless. Existing will never come naturally to me. Working hard is never going to end, I’m never going to get a break. There’s no top of the mountain to reach, I just have to keep going up and up and up.

Some people put their lives on pause. They take time off work to get better. If I did that, would I actually start to feel better? I have a feeling I would just end up guilty, depressed and jobless. It’s not like anything would be different if I took time off. What would I do with the time? I can’t use the time for therapy that’s not available to me. It seems like help is only available to those who have “real” mental illnesses. Whatever that means. I’m not hurting others and I’m not holding a gun to my head, therefore I don’t count? I understand, there’s just not enough money or manpower to help everybody. Besides, I don’t really want to hurt myself, I just don’t know how to live with myself.

I feel like happiness is too much to ask for. I don’t deserve it anyway. Apathy would be nice though. It would be nice for things not to matter so much, for things not to be so difficult all the time, to not have to force myself to do everything. I just want to get up and go about my day and not think about it. I envy people who can just do what needs to be done without thinking about it. Why do I have to think so much?

I can’t stop the thinking. I’ve been trying to just do what needs to be done, to stop dwelling, analyzing and dreading and just do it. When I do this, my dreams tend to get unpleasant. I dream about the tasks I have to do and all the things that could go wrong. I know it’s just a dream and I am catastrophisizing, which is a cognitive distortion, but I still wake up tired and stressed. Being tired and stressed makes it harder to maintain the whole not thinking and just do it thing. It’s a cycle you see. The fact that I know I’m in this behavioural cycle that is completely irrational just makes me angry at myself.

Is it possible to be overly confident and have low self-esteem at the same time? I have low self-esteem, I always have. I remember getting check marks in the “needs improvement” category under self-esteem on my elementary school report cards. At the same time, I have this expectation that I should be better than this. I need improvement? I shouldn’t need improvement, I should be the best. That’s why those check marks hurt so much. I remember really crying over it, getting a stomach ache and throwing up.

what you see

Why Can’t I?

This lack of motivation and inspiration is starting to seep into all parts of my life, not just work and being healthy. I’ve been having trouble drawing and blogging the past week. These are usually my outlets. I am already feeling quite low, so not being about to do what I normally enjoy is just going to make it worse. I’m trying to make myself do the things I supposedly enjoy anyway in hopes of it helping.2014-05-30 12.51.47

Have you ever tried Art Journaling? I think it’s a beautiful form or expression. It combines mixed media art and writing your thoughts down. I find it quite intimidating as most of the pieces I have seen are quite beautiful. So I decided to start small and I bought a book, “Art, Doodle, Love” by Dawn DeVries Sokol. It provides pre-made backgrounds and writing prompts to help you get started with art journaling. I have really been enjoying it. Art journaling doesn’t seem quite so scary now.

I’m relying on this book to give me some inspiration for a post. One of the pages from the book is called “Why Can’t I?” It asks you what holds you back from fulfilling your dreams. You’re supposed to answer the question with doodles and photos, washi tape, whatever you feel like. I thought this was good to think about.

In order to make changes in life, you have to disrupt your routine. It’s different for all of us, but a routine is normally good for me, it keeps me functional as opposed to freaking out or being unable to get out of bed. Changing a routine and remaining functional requires a lot of effort. It’s not that I don’t want to put in the effort, it’s just that I feel like I already have enough on my plate. This can be overwhelming. Feeling overwhelmed is your body’s way of telling you to dial it down. This creates an internal conflict. You want to make improvements, but you’re completely overwhelmed.

When I thought about it, besides being overwhelmed, I realized everything that holds me back is self-imposed. Things like waiting for the right time, assuming I know what the outcome will be, negative self-talk, comfortable habits, thinking that I have to be the best, fear of failure….the underlying reason for all this is the belief that I am not good enough.

It's not who you think you are that holds you back, it's who you think you are not.

I hate those infomercials that say you can be anything you want as long as you think positive and visualize success. It’s not that simple. Sure, that’s part of it. Research has shown that success has more to do with attitude and motivation than raw talent. Everyone doubts themselves once and a while, but for people like me and many others that have depression, not only do we have to think positive which is unnatural, but we have to find the motivation (which is lacking) AND we have to overcome core beliefs that we are not good enough and don’t deserve success. I’m not saying it’s not possible, I’m just pointing out that it’s exhausting. Fighting against beliefs that make you who you are is hard work.

So ignore everyone else when they say you aren’t trying hard enough. If they haven’t been there, there’s no way they can understand how difficult it can get.  Be honest with yourself, are you genuinely trying? Yes? Good! It’s ok to collapse from mental exhaustion once and while. Just don’t forget to pick yourself back up again.

artdoodlelove Why can't I 1 artdoodlelove Why can't I 2


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?

W is for Worth

Sometimes I feel worthless. I can’t do anything right, I have no talent, I’m useless. I don’t deserve the air I breathe. For some people, this self-hate is ironed into you. This is how you think and what you tell yourself everyday. No wonder everything seems pointless.

war with myself

I was feeling like this during one of my appointments with a psychologist. She told me to write two lists. One of all the screw-ups I’ve had and the second of all my accomplishments. She told me to look at the big things and the little things. She said that my list of accomplishments would come out longer. This would make me feel better. So I did my homework. The screw-ups came easily, but I had to really think about the accomplishments. My lists came out dead even! So that exercise back-fired. Oh well, she meant well.

Psych was determined though, so she had another suggestion at my next appointment. She told me to ask at least two people to write down a list of the things they valued about me. I felt stupid asking people to do this, but I did it anyway. You can’t accuse me of not trying here! I asked my mother and my husband to write lists. I gave them a week and went to my next psych appointment with the lists in hand. Psych and I went over the lists together. They listed about 15 things each. Very few of the things they listed had anything to do with how I look or what I’ve accomplished. This is how I usually evaluate myself, on my appearance and accomplishments. Maybe I’m going about this wrong if the people I care about most don’t evaluate me that way? The lists were very similar. Two people said I was kind and generous. I think I’m selfish. It’s kind of hard to argue against what two people think of me. So maybe there’s some truth to it?

I kept the lists. I keep them for emergencies when I start to hate myself again. It’s a good reminder that appearance and career accomplishments aren’t the be all and end all. Anyway, the point is, these lists got me thinking. They not only made me feel better about myself, but they caused me to gain a new perspective on worth.

2014-04-06 09.57.21My cat, Ewok, doesn’t have an income, in fact she costs money. She doesn’t contribute to housework, she gets fluff all over the place. She mostly curls up in a ball and sleeps all day, yet I consider her valuable. Other people have plants that they take care of. They do so because the plant has worth to them. Maybe we expect too much of ourselves. We shouldn’t have to be the best, to make lots of money or have many accomplishments to be important. Sure we would all like to, but we can’t all be number one! Animals and plants don’t do any of these things. Yet, they are given worth just for existing. Shouldn’t we give ourselves the same consideration?

I never really thought about it that way before. It makes a lot of sense to me.

Your worth is a given because you exist.

S is for Self

split face

There are so many aspects of self related to mental health. Some of the big ones being self-harm, self-talk, self-growth and self-loathing. One of the big ones I’ve been trying to work on lately is self-esteem. I think it’s a big part of my depression. Self-esteem is a way of thinking/feeling/acting that implies you accept/respect/trust and believe in yourself. Having good self-esteem means accepting and living with your strengths and weaknesses, acknowledging your value as a human being and being confident that you can fulfill your needs, aspirations and goals. Having low self-esteem results in feelings of emptiness that cause you to latch on to something external to provide inner relief. This could be a relationship, food or drugs. I know I definitely rely on cake, but besides that my major vice is work. I rely on my accomplishments at work, or lack there of to dictate my worth. This thinking isn’t healthy.

Psychologists have told me that good self-esteem is accomplished by taking care of yourself, in the form of 1) overcoming deficits from your past by becoming a good parent to your “inner child”and 2) recognizing your basic needs and meeting them. The first part always sounds kind of fluffy to me. What is your “inner child”? One psychologist explained it as being the playful, vulnerable part of yourself. Those who allow expression of their “inner child” will find it easier to be playful, to give and receive affection and to be in touch with their feelings. Those who ignore their “inner child” will find it difficult to have fun, to give/receive affection, will be overly logical and need to keep things under control. To be a good parent you had to identify from your childhood circumstances the cause of you growing up to feel inadequate. Most of these causes were to do with how your parents treated you as a child because apparently you treat your “inner child” the same way your parents treated you. I’m sure this will strike a chord with many, but it made no sense to me. What if your self-esteem issues are not rooted in your childhood? My parents weren’t overcritical or neglectful, I wasn’t spoiled nor was I overprotected, I didn’t suffer any major loss (like a parent’s death or divorce) and I was not abused in any manner. I am much harder on myself and more critical of myself than my parents ever were. Maybe this part of improving self-esteem just didn’t apply to me.

The second part made a world of sense to me. You have physiological needs (food, water, oxygen, etc.) for survival, but it is important to look after your psychological needs to promote well-being. What are psychological needs? I’ll give you some examples.

  • safety/security
  • respect
  • friendship
  • being listened to
  • guidance
  • fun/play
  • creativity
  • loyalty/trust
  • sexual expression
  • nurturing
  • freedom/independence
  • mastery
  • the attention of others
  • physical touch
  • expression of feelings
  • sense of progression toward goals

I don’t know about you, but I never considered these things to be needs. They were wants or wishes, things that I worked for, but didn’t necessarily need for my well-being. Since I have depression and a big part of that is low self-esteem, my perspective is obviously wrong. Are all of these needs being met in your life right now? A lot of them weren’t for me. I started with creativity, I felt that was easiest for me to tackle. I gave myself 15 minutes every evening to doodle. It didn’t have to be anything grand or anything complete, just doing it was the point. This eventually evolved into reestablishing my drawing hobby, which led to fun! Alright, there’s two psychological needs met that I didn’t have before. What’s next? Guidance. I’ve been running the research lab I am part of for the last while. I don’t have the qualifications or the knowledge to do this, it just sort of fell into my lap. So I’ve been stumbling through trying to figure things out in addition to doing my own work. It has given my confidence a good beating. I think I would do better with some direction, but this involves talking to my supervisor about it. Anxiety! Figuring out what I want to say to her and meeting with her is next in my quest for better self-esteem.

While I am working on improving my self-esteem, I have come across a few strategies that reinforce the little belief I do have in myself.

  • Taking care of my body. Yes I wish I were thinner, fitter, prettier, but that’s not what I mean. I mean be healthy. Eating right, resting and exercising. It’s hard to feel good about yourself when you feel weak/tired/ill.
  • Expressing feelings. If you are out of touch with your feelings, it’s like you are detached from yourself. By expressing your feelings you can better understand your needs and desires and are better equipped to meet them.
  • Positive self-talk. Disrupt negative self-talk by distracting your mind or by questioning your thoughts. What is the evidence for this thought? Is this always true? Am I looking at all perspectives here?
  • Having direction. I always feel most confident following the accomplishment of one of my goals. This shouldn’t be the sole basis of my worth, like it has been, but it does affect how I feel. Self-esteem is reinforced by progression towards goals. In looking to the future, it’s important not to lose sight of what you have already accomplished.
  • Personal relationships. It can be intimate relationships, family relationships or friendship. They can’t create self-esteem. It has to come from within. Personal relationships can provide support/acceptance/validation/love that can go a long way toward strengthening your self-esteem.


Get in Gear

S is also for Steampunk!


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