Self-Compassion

“I don’t think anyone could ever criticize me more severely than the way I viciously criticize myself.”

We are our hardest critic. Sometimes I don’t think I even know what self-compassion is. I don’t know how to be nice to myself. I can be extremely kind to strangers, but I am consistently putting myself down because I don’t feel like I’m good enough. I recently wrote this in a ‘getting it off my chest’ piece:

“I’m feeling frustrated as well. I feel like life isn’t moving fast enough for me, that it’s just dragging by. I feel like I’m going nowhere in life and doing that fast. I don’t feel like a success and I often feel like I’ll never be one and that’s all I want. I feel like I have something I have to prove to the world, and right now I’m failing at it. I want to be proud of myself, instead I find that I want to crawl into a corner and hide. How can I be proud of myself and my accomplishments, when I have depression? I think this is compounded by the fact that when I am proud of my little accomplishments, I get made fun of. I almost wrote ‘silly little accomplishments’, which tells you exactly where my frame of mind is….”

I’m being hard on myself. People tell me that I’m exactly where I need to be, but I feel like I should be somewhere else. I feel like I should be further along with my life. (And there I go using ‘should’ in regards to my life. I swear it’s the worst word in the English language.)

I need to learn to be compassionate towards myself; to give myself a little more credit. I am successful in many ways. Living alone and being independent in my early 20s, is a great accomplishment. Knowing what I want to do with my life and having the courage to work toward, albeit however slowly that may be, is also a success. I need to be nicer to myself, because I know that I am not a bad person.

So why is it I can be nice to others but not myself? Why am I so viciously cruel to myself, when I know I’m not a bad person? In some ways, it makes me better because by criticizing myself, I’m working towards being a better person. But for the most part, I need to be nicer towards myself like I am towards strangers. I’m just as good as anybody else in this world, I just have to believe it.

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Self-Compassion Exercises

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How Family and Friends Can Help Those with Mental Illness

One of the many questions I get when speaking is “How can we help those with depression?” I’m so glad to hear people asking this question because it shows that they see, at least partially, the pain that their friend or family member is going through and they want to help. So here are a couple of suggestions I have gotten from friends who also suffer from mental illness.

My first response to this question is to tell the person that you are there for them. Depression and anxiety often make a person feel very alone. But these diseases can also make a person push family and friends away because they don’t believe that anyone can understand how they feel. Showing a depressed person that you are there for them by doing little things like helping around the house, can help that person start their road to recovery.

A friend with depression said this when asked what family and friends can do to help, “Invites back to life. Depression is not living. People should try to push you to resume daily life starting with fun!” She’s right. Depression is not living, depression is only an existence. By inviting a depressive out to daily events like shopping or just taking a walk, you are inviting them back to having a life.

Another way to help someone with a mental illness is to encourage them to seek professional help. Help them find a psychiatrist or therapist that they like. Make sure they are getting to their appointments and taking their meds.

The biggest gift you can give them is being nonjudgmental. They often can’t help the direction their mind is going in. By being nonjudgmental and showing understanding, you can help them stop the rumination which is a big part of depression and anxiety. The best thing you can do is be supportive and ask if there is anything they need.

Encourage them also to get involved with art, music, or anything that allows them to creatively express themselves. Expressive therapy is known to be extremely therapeutic.

It is often the smallest things that can have the biggest impact for a person with depression. Inviting them out to dinner or trying to establish some type of normalcy will help them feel much better about themselves and help pull them from the depression. For us, it’s the small things that count the most.

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Family

Family. Almost everyone has a family, whether they want one or not. Family is usually there for you. They stick by you no matter what and often times they get on your nerves with their constant advice. They always have some sort of input on your life whether you want it or not. Families are there for each other and support each other.

So what happens when you are diagnosed with depression and your family has no clue what to do or even what that means? Oftentimes they try their best to help, but sometimes their ‘help’ consists of platitudes, cliches, or questions that don’t help the situation. This can be frustrating at best and at it’s worst, can actually worsen your depression.

Lately, all I’ve been hearing from my family is you need to stop doing this or start doing that. I want to tell them that all I really need is support not advice. You are not living my life nor are you standing in my shoes, you have no idea what I’m going through. Why is it that my two friends are better support than you are? Instead, I get asked when I’m going to go back to school or when am I going to get a better job. I just want to scream at them “I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got right now, is that not good enough?”

It’s bad enough that I haven’t been able to succeed at following my own life plan, I don’t need you to force yours on to me. Maybe I won’t complete school. Maybe I’ll never get a college degree, is that such a bad thing? Which is silly because I do want to go back to school and get a degree, I just want everyone to stop asking me these questions, because right now I don’t have the answers. Right now, I’m living day to day, just trying to make it through.

So I’m sure you’re asking yourself, as family, what can I do? Sometimes silent support is the best support. And as tempting as it may seem, giving advice isn’t going to help. Oftentimes, it only makes us feel worse. The best question you can ask is “How are you doing?”, followed by “Is there anything I can do to help you?”. These two questions show your support of the person and allows them to respond in a manner most comfortable for them.

These are the two questions I wish my family would ask me without judgement or criticism. I wish they would stop trying to give me advice, platitudes or asking me questions that I don’t know the answers to. I’m trying my best at the moment, why can’t that be enough?

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My Story: After Outpatient Treatment Part 3

Week 3, Day 1
Yesterday I hung out with the BF. We had fun visiting local downtown areas having lunch and then hitting up the mall. I was looking for a new swimsuit top for the summer. Now, I’m a slightly bigger girl, with a pretty large bust so it can be difficult for me to find tops that fit. So, after visiting the first of the 2 stores we were going to look at, I had a minor meltdown. I knew that anything I was going to find was going to have to be altered and that was if I found something in the first place. My BF dragged me over to some couches where we just sat and talked and cried. Well, I cried but he was so kind and understanding. He sees me in such a different light than I see myself and it’s amazing.

In the end, we didn’t find any swimsuit top that would work, so I decided an old bra and tank top would work for now, but the bonding experience we had was definitely worth the struggle we went through just in looking. I can’t believe I’ve found this amazing guy who is willing to deal with my ups and my downs and it’s amazing that he wants to be with me. I can’t wait to see where things go from here.

PS: Don’t teach BF any more coping skills!!! He knows way too much about rumination, and is consistently reminding me of when I do it already!! 🙂

5/12
I’m heading to vacation this week. I’m so excited to have a couple of days to relax and help my grandparents. I still haven’t found a swimsuit but that’s ok. I’ll just wear a bra and tank top. It’s not very warm out anyway so maybe the extra layers will help. I’m excited to get away from life for even just three days and spend some time out on the water. It always helps me relax and I always feel better afterward.

5/14
I only feel important, like I’m a priority when I’m needed/wanted for help with something. At least within my family, I feel like they only want me around when they need me to do something for them. Otherwise, I just feel like I’m in the way or I get the feeling that they want me to go away. I know that they don’t always like that I’m so open about my depression and my life on this blog but I just never understood hiding things. And I’m hoping that being more open about my struggle will help others with depression and promote understanding to those without it.

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Friends

When I was little, I didn’t have very many friends. I usually had the one requisite best friend and that is who I would hang out with. For some reason though, eventually this best friend would move and I would spend time in limbo before finding a new friend. This happened many times from 1st grade all the way through high school.

I was always on the fringe of any groups. Now that I’m older, I feel like I spent my childhood chasing after the other kids on the playground. I would invite girls to my birthday parties and they would attend but I wasn’t always include in outside events. As we got older, it became even more apparent to me that I didn’t belong.

My middle school years, 5th and 6th grade, I felt like even more of an outsider. In 5th grade, I became the teacher’s pet just so I could go back to my classroom instead of going out to recess. The few times I remember going to recess, I recall sitting in front of an old tree stump that was disintegrating and picking at it, watching all of the other kids. I tried joining in a couple of times but I honestly felt like I wasn’t wanted.

By high school the differences were even more pronounced. I wasn’t into fashion and I wasn’t ‘boy-crazy’. I was a musical nerd who enjoyed her classes and joined every extracurricular choral group possible. After I turned 16, I got a job but I still didn’t feel like I fit in. Looking back at pictures of myself from high school, I feel like I’m on the edges; on the outside looking in.

I’ve felt this way my entire life. I’ve often been told it’s because I’m more mature than others my age or that I ‘had an old soul’. But while that is great advice, as a kid, I just wanted to fit in. I just wanted to be part of the group; to feel wanted and involved.

Today, I don’t have many friends, but I cherish the ones I do. They are important to me because I know how much it sucks to not be  invited or to be forgotten or ignored. I want my friends to know that I appreciate that they are willing to be there for me, especially on days when my depression attempts to get the best of me. My friends are my support and for that, I thank them.

To My Boyfriend

To My Boyfriend:

I’m sorry. I know that it is difficult for you to understand my depression and what it can do to me. And I love that you want to understand and that you are making an effort to see past my depression to me. I don’t know what you see in me that you insist is so amazing and great and I might never see it but I’m glad that you do.

I love that you’re uplifting even when I’m at my worst. You refuse to let me begin my destructive circular thinking and you want me to succeed. You believe in me when I can’t.

You’re a good man. You have so much going for you and I often think that you can do so much better than a mess like me, but you insist that I’m the one who is out of your league.

I can be myself around you and not worry that you’re going to walk away. I miss you when we’re not together and I look forward to every time I get to see you. I’m looking forward to see what life has in-store for us. I’m hopeful, which is saying something for me.

I’m grateful that you’re there for me when I’m down and when I’m not. You’re a wonderful person, and I hope that we can grow together. Hopefully, one day I’ll be better and my good days will outnumber the bad. Until then, all I ask is patience.

Please understand that I am fighting. I want to get better and sometimes I can’t see that light at the end of the tunnel, but you say that it’s there and I’m willing to believe you. Hopefully we can reach that light together.

Thank you for everything you’ve done so far and everything that I’m sure you’re going to do. I appreciate it more than I can say. Thank you.

Acceptance

Acceptance is important in your life. It allows you to make peace with the your past and move forward with your life. The first step to acceptance is learning what acceptance is versus what it is not.

Acceptance is not forgiveness, forgetting, letting it go, being ok, denial, allowing it, agreeing with it or understanding.

Acceptance is making space, letting yourself off of the hook, especially from suffering and ‘It is what it is’.

There are 10 steps towards acceptance.

  1. Honor the full sweep of your emotions.
    1. Seek to fully feel your emotions and express those emotions that you feel. Understand your emotions, thoughts & embrace them as valuable feedback for your life.
  2. Give up your need for revenge but continue to seek a just resolution.
    1. Let go of your natural instinct to hurt back or take revenge from the person who hurt you. Revenge will give you a false sense of power over another, however this power is considered ‘cheap thrills’ & will ultimately hurt you more over time. Mindfully turn away from retaliation and look to empower, grow & strengthen yourself.
  3. Stop obsessing about the injury and re-engage with life.
    1. Gain awareness to stop & replace repetitive toxic thinking patterns which only cause ongoing distress, trauma and harm. You have to create a conscious awareness and be mindful.
  4. Protect yourself from further abuse.
    1. Accepting the wrongness of the actions allows you to learn how to distance and protect yourself in the future. Use the pain of the experience to learn & grow and take precautions to ensure your safety in the present and future. Make changes.
  5. Frame the offender’s behaviour in terms of their own problems and personal struggles
    1. Try to see things from the offender’s point of view. The wrongful actions are about the person who acted wrongly. “Their neediness to feel important by tearing others down”. The more you know about them and their situations, the more you won’t take their behavior personally. Never let another person’s actions dictate how you feel about yourself.
  6. Look honestly at your own contribution to the injury.
    1. Examine how your actions, approach & choices may have contributed to the situation.This is not about blaming yourself. Authentically examine your own life, self & issues to look at how your own fears, past experiences and beliefs, etc, prevented you from seeing that you deserved so much better. That you didn’t deserve to be hurt. Allow the pain of experience to teach you that you are more than a victim. The person who most needs your forgiveness is yourself.
  7. Challenge your false assumptions about what happened.
    1. Identify and challenge any limiting beliefs or false assumptions. Identify toxic or limiting patterns, and don’t edit or rationalize these ideas. Ask yourself, ‘Is it true? What toxic thinking pattern does it fall under? What limiting belief underlies this thinking? It is an empowering or a limiting belief?’ Is this typical of your thinking? If so, why? If not, why are you thinking in this manner?
  8. Look at the offender apart from his offense, weighing the good against the bad.
    1. Look at the person separate from their actions. Also look at the person & their behaviors for their impact on you and your life. Has their impact been mostly positive or negative?
  9. Decide carefully what kind of relationship you want in the future with the person who wronged you.
    1. How do you relate to this person overall? Is reconciliation possible? If not, is it possible to even interact with the person? Is forgiveness an option? Be gentle with yourself & take time to sort through your emotions. Learn to trust yourself and your feelings.
  10. Forgive yourself for your own failings.
    1. Fully forgive yourself for any of your own mistakes or failings related to the situation. As Maya Angelou has said, “When you know better, you do better”. Your mistakes or failings stem from ingrained old ways of getting your universally human need to matter met. Forgiving yourself will make it easier to let go of obsessive thinking patterns, such as blaming yourself for what happened, which would only keep you from living your life fully engaged with the people and activities you love.

Learning to accept situations, especially ones that are out of your control, will give you more control over your own life. Acceptance is not forgiveness but rather the willingness to allow yourself to learn from the experience rather than allowing the situation to continue to harm you.