Depression's Biggest Lies and How to Challenge Them
What is Depression?
Depression is a mental state of being influenced by a number of factors and causes. It affects your mood, which in turn affects how you perceive yourself, others and the world around you. Depression can range from "just feeling down" to a clinical psychosis; it encompasses Persistent Depressive Disorder, Post-Partum and Perinatal Depression, Psychotic Depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder and Bi-Polar Disorder. Depression is characterized by the following symptoms:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Moving or talking more slowly
- Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Appetite and/or weight changes
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment*
Not every person who has depression experiences every symptom, and different people experience different symptoms to varying degrees. One thing is true for every person though- depression makes every day life extremely difficult.
*Source: National Institute of Mental Health (www.nih.nimh.gov)
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Your Own Private Battle
Everyone's battle with depression is different, but in some ways they're remarkably similar. There are some commonalities that every sufferer shares, and one such commonality is the Negative Voice. The Negative Voice is that little voice in your head that confirms your worst fears and anxieties; it lies to you and makes you believe those fears are real. That voice is what suffocates the life out of you.
This is an excerpt from my own online journal that I wrote when I was going through a particularly bad period:
Nobody wants you.
You're not good enough for anything.
Nobody will ever truly love you, they'll just use you.
You can't trust anyone. There's nobody you can depend on. You have no one.
People will only betray you and hurt you.
You're an idiot. Why would you flatter yourself into thinking anyone wants you?
You're such a fool. You should be ashamed of yourself.
Look at those other girls- you don't have what they've got.
You've got nothing. You are nothing.
Do those statements sound familiar? Those statements belong to the Negative Voice and when you're going through a depressive episode, it can be very hard to turn off. But all of these statements have one thing in common- they are all based in fear.
One reason why depression and the Negative Voice are so hard to overcome is because depression takes your deepest fears and then shouts them through a loudspeaker until you can't focus on anything except the Negative Voice. I am going to expose depression's 3 biggest lies, what they are based on, and how you can challenge them.
Lie #1- "I'm Not Good Enough"
Lie #1, the "I'm not good enough" lie, is rooted in the fear of inadequacy. Every day of our lives we are comparing ourselves to others. We do it all the time without even thinking about it. Let me explain: when you see a magazine in the checkout line, it usually features a model or celebrity. Immediately our mind begins to compare ourselves to that person, and usually in a negative manner- "I'm not as pretty as she is"; "I wish I had his money"; "I wish I was as thin as her"; etc. And it's not just with celebrities; we compare ourselves to people we see every day at work, at school, at the gym, at the store, everywhere.
Fear of inadequacy has deep roots in jealousy; we constantly wish we had what someone else has. Whether we want better looks, a higher paying job, more intelligence, a nicer house or car- every day we look at what the people around us have and perceive whatever it is to be better than what we have.
When we can't have what that other person has, we view ourselves as not measuring up to that person, which translates into our Negative Voice telling us that we're not good enough.
One way to challenge the "I'm not good enough" lie is by counting your blessings and taking stock of the things you are thankful for. Don't feel like you're pretty or handsome enough? Make a list of the features and attributes that you like about yourself, whether it's your eyes, your great smile, your sense of humor. When you really dig deep, you'll see that your positive traits far outweigh your negative traits. Don't think you have a nice enough car? Think about what your life would be like if you had no car at all. Picture yourself having to stand at the bus stop when it's 30 degrees and raining, or having to ride a bike through rush hour traffic.
Take the time to inventory all of the good things in your life, and the bad things in your life will seem small by comparison.
"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."— Plato
Lie #2- "I'm Alone"
The second lie that depression tells us is that we're alone, that no one can possibly understand the way we feel. Take another look at my journal entry above: "You have no one". Depression makes you feel isolated because you think no one cares, or that you have to isolate yourself out of shame and embarrassment. Isolation has deep roots in the fear of rejection; we think that no one can possibly love us the way we are, warts and all. However, I have found exactly the opposite to be true. After I wrote that journal entry, this was the reply that I received:
"I understand why you could feel this way. It's been my own psychological makeup for most of my life."
The two most important words in that statement are "I understand". The truth is, no matter what you are feeling, thinking or going through, someone, somewhere, has been at that same point at some time. When my youngest son was 3, my then husband was deployed to Iraq for 18 months. I suddenly found myself on my own, working full-time and being a single parent. It was hard and I was tempted to wallow in self-pity. What changed my perspective was that at the time I was a social worker and I worked with low-income seniors. Almost all of them were in my same position in their younger years during World War II, suddenly finding themselves in a completely new- and frightening- position. Not only that, but they had to work outside the home and take care of their children while dealing with food and materiel rationing. There was no internet, no Skype, no ship-to-shore calls; they just had to hold their breath until they received the next airmail letter. Knowing that there were people around me who had shared the same experience and under even worse conditions gave me hope that I could carry on and be just fine as well.
Take the time to reach out to someone, somewhere and talk about how you feeling; chances are that you are not as alone as you feel.
Lie #3- "I'm Worthless"
The third lie is "I'm worthless". Depression's Negative Voice tells you that your life has no meaning, no purpose and no value, and life itself, by association, has no meaning, purpose or value. Since depression is very self-centered, it makes you only focus on yourself instead of the people around you.
Have you ever taken the time to really think about the impact your life has on the people around you on any given day? If you sit down and reflect on the hundreds and big and small things you do for others, you'll find that you do have value, meaning and purpose.
After I went through my divorce and emptied my heart of all the negative feelings I had associated with it, I decided that I needed to fill my heart back up with positive things. I embarked on a project called 37 Days of Gifts, in which I recorded every day for 37 days the things I did that were a gift to other people and how those people were impacted. The things on my list included making coffee for my co-workers since our day begins at 7:30am; cooking healthy meals for my kids to teach them about good nutrition; sending a card to my grandmother in the nursing home; taking my mom out to lunch for her birthday; and on and on and on. What I discovered through this exercise was that simple acts mean a lot to others. Those people benefit from the small things that I do and ways that I enrich their lives. That is what gives my life meaning, purpose and value- being able to spread kindness to others and being open to receiving kindness as well.
None of us are superheroes. We all bumble through life trying to do the best we can and often fall short of our own expectations. When we don't live up to our own expectations, or what we perceive others' expectations are for us, we feel like failures. And when we feel like failures, we feel like we have no worth.
Take the time to reflect on how your life is a gift to others every day, and how the small things you do have a big impact on the world around you.
The Take Away
So what can we conclude? We can conclude that depression is a sneak thief, a liar that comes in and robs us of our joy by convincing us of things that simply aren't true. But we do have tools we can use to challenge those lies and lift ourselves out of depression's grasp.
- When depression makes you think you're not good enough, challenge that lie by thinking about all of the things you like about yourself and are grateful for.
- When depression makes you think that you're all alone, challenge that lie by reaching out to others who have been through the same thing.
- When depression makes you think you're worthless, challenge that lie by realizing what a gift you are to the people around you, just by the small thoughtful actions you do every day.
Depression is a very real condition, but that doesn't mean it has to be a way of life. If depression is controlling you, grab it by the collar and show it who's boss! Even if that means seeing a therapist, medication therapy, or simply following the steps I've outlined above, take back your life and start enjoying it.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to diagnose or treat any illness or condition. If you feel like you need medical intervention, please consult a doctor. If you are in a state of crisis, please call your local crisis hotline.