By Lauren Madden
“Don’t let the sadness of your past and the fear of your future ruin the happiness of your present.” ~Unknown
I know what it feels like to be scared.
I know what it feels like to question your sanity, your worth, your place in this world.
Sometimes, all I can do is repeat the words it’s okay over and over and over again in my head, until I kind of, somewhat, maybe start to believe it’s true.
Anxiety sucks. Depression does too. They’re not my favorites of the emotions we humans get to experience. But, truthfully, they have a purpose.
I’ve been having panic attacks for a little over six months now. They’re still new to me, and every one is so different.
The physical symptoms change, I’m still learning what my “triggers” are, and the ups and downs between my moods vary in time and extremity. But there’s one thing that has been consistent since the beginning, which is that every time I start to feel anxiety or depression creep in, I instantly hate myself.
I sense the pit of worry in my stomach, and I hate myself. I wake up feeling sad, and I hate myself. I have to transfer money from my savings account, and I hate myself. I mess up at work, and I hate myself. I feel the uncertainty of my future, and I hate myself.
As soon as I begin to enter that state, it’s the start of the freaking pity party of the century. Pretty soon all of my thoughts sound something along the lines of…
I’m so messed up.
No one else feels this way.
I’m broken beyond repair.
I shouldn’t feel this way.
Why can’t I just be happy?
I’m not good enough to be happy.
There’s no way I’m going to get through this.
I thought I had come so far.
There’s just no point.
I can’t remember the last time I felt happy, or excited, or tired, or bored, and thought anything close to these dark, nasty thoughts. So why do I instantly start abusing myself with such hateful thinking when these specific emotions of anxiety and depression appear?
But wait! There’s good news here. This isn’t just a pity party, after all.
I realized that there’s a way to pull myself out of the cyclical trap of feel sad or anxious, then hating myself for feeling sad or anxious, and then hating myself for hating myself for feeling sad or anxious.
It’s a vicious cycle, but there is a simple solution: compassion, self-love, and reframing.
For example, today I had a series of mini breakdowns, which included locking myself in my car so I could cry in (semi) privacy, throwing up in the bathroom at work because my stomach was so full of acidic worry it made me sick, leaving work early because of how I felt, and sobbing in my shower for about twenty minutes while wasting precious hot water. (#BestDayEver)
So what did I do to turn it around?
I treated myself with compassion and self-love, and reframed my negative thoughts.
I showered, put on comfy clothes, made a cup of tea, and lit my favorite candle. I turned on Girls in the background because Hannah always makes me feel better. I read a few pages from one of my favorite books. I did some deep breathing. I told myself “I’m going to be okay” at least one hundred thousand times (slight exaggeration, maybe).
Then, I started to pay attention to my thoughts as an outside observer. I was able to look at some of the terrible things I say to myself like “I’m so messed up” and “I shouldn’t feel this way,” and was able to crack them open for analysis.
I was able to look at it from an objective point of view and question: Are these thoughts really true? And if not, can I replace these thoughts with ones that are actually true?
I’m so messed up became I’m going through a tough time right now, like everyone else in the world has, but it doesn’t reflect my worthiness or importance as an individual.
I shouldn’t feel this way became It’s okay to feel down or nervous sometimes, because it’s temporary and it doesn’t define who I am.
I’m broken beyond repair became I’m just figuring the craziness of this life out, as we all are, and I’ll feel better soon.
There’s just no point became I have an infinite number of resources and people in my life who love and support me, and I’m worthy of that love and support.
The stories that we tell ourselves are just that: stories. What we say to ourselves in our heads can hugely impact the way we perceive our lives and our self-worth.
As the Buddha said, “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”
By becoming more mindful of the stories running through your mind, you’re able to take an objective view on how those stories makes you feel, and then decide if they’re worth keeping around or not. If they’re not, choose to let them go.
Reframing, self-love, and compassion are the three tools I use to help guide me through anxiety and depression. It’s all a learning process, but I can confidently say that this has helped me so much more than self-medicating or trying to ignore the problem.
By observing our thoughts and the way we speak to ourselves in times of struggle, we can get a picture of how much we actually love ourselves, and then ramp up the love and positivity until we can’t help but feel better
If you’re going through anxiety, depression, or any other tough time, I encourage you to:
- Slow down; hit pause
- Remember that you’re worthy of love and happiness
- Take a few deep breaths, and tune into that inner dialogue you have going on
- See if there are any negative thoughts or stories running through your mind that you can challenge
- Replace them with positive, love-based truths
Try to remember that we’re all just living, breathing, crazy little human beings, floating around on this planet through a limitless universe for a microscopic moment of time. None of us really know what the heck is going on here.
We’re all just trying to get by, and have a little fun while doing it. Remember that you’re worthy of love from others, but most importantly, from yourself. And try to ease up on yourself. It’s okay to feel bad. It’s also okay to feel good. They’re two sides of the same coin, and that’s what this life is all about… our depth of human experiences and our connection to something more.
I’m thankful for anxiety and depression because those emotions present me with an opportunity. It’s a chance for me to fall victim to my fear-based, negative stories, or for me to choose to see things from a place of love instead. The next time you feel those emotions creeping in, I challenge you to ask yourself, what do you choose?