Don’t Mistake a Few Bad Days For a Bad Life with Anxiety
by Carol Blake
Listen to Editor in Chief Gabriel Nathan read this story:
I have years of experience living with anxiety, depression, and letting the negative voices in my head take over my life, so I understand how hard it is to feel good or happy when it’s impossible to even get out of bed. My hope is that the exercises I practice, which are outlined later, will assist you in lessening your depression and anxiety.
While I was growing up, we moved a lot. I’d make new friends, go to a new school for a year and a half and then move in the middle of the school year. It’s bad enough to move in the summer and start a new school at the beginning of the year, but beginning another school midway through is even worse. I’d have to leave everything behind and start over. Some moves were actually welcome.
One school I went to was filled with bullies. Eighth grade, I had terrible acne. Some of the kids were horribly cruel to me. I recall walking into the cafeteria and it seemed the entire school was in that room. A bully called me out, loud and proud, yelling, “Hey chicken pox! You got chicken pox or what? What is all that on your face?!” Me, being scared to death of people, answered her, explaining, “It’s called acne,” in a sheepish, small voice. Everyone laughed.
When you start life with voices expressing how worthless and stupid you are, it’s hard to drown out the negative voices in your head. Then, attending a school where the bullies are yelling how ugly you are into your face—believe me when I say, I know what it feels like to feel unworthy, ugly, unlovable, and living with suicidal thoughts. The words they say to you repeat in your head, so you feel they must be true. That’s when you have to look deeper. You have to seek your truth and your hope.
I tend to overthink everything. My whole family does. I wonder if we all overthink. We overthinkers and overanalyzers are wrong. When you overthink, you tend to only view the negative and believe untruths about yourself as well as untruths about the external world. You have to distract yourself from doing this.
As I grew older and negative voices would not be hushed, I realized I needed to find a way of dealing with them. Creative writing and journaling became great escapes for me. The act of writing the truth (positive statements or affirmations) rewires my brain from negative to positive, reframes the way I see the world—it’s healing and cathartic. There’s something about the written word, in pen, on actual paper that affects me in a deeply therapeutic manner. Sometimes, after writing the reframes, I say them aloud in the mirror. The penned and spoken words fuel me with empowerment in believing the good stuff and unwiring all those negative voices that are liars and dirty cheats. Liars, because the negatives are untrue; cheats because listening to the negatives cheats you out of a happier and stronger presence.
Here is what I started doing and I’m offering this homework to you.
Reframe the negative self-talk with a positive statement. For a bonus, expand on why the positive statement is true for you. Some of my examples (all from my personal journal) are below.
Instead of my saying “I’m so stupid,” I rephrase to say, “I’m smart. I’ve started businesses on my own and was successful.”
I changed the negative to a positive and added the support statement as my “why.” The more supporting statements you list, the more unwiring you do.
Write yours and say some of your positives many times during each day, especially the ones you find hardest to believe. And, perhaps, keep one guiding force that drives you forward.
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Rather than saying, “I’m unlovable, worthless and don’t deserve anything good. I wish I wasn’t here.” I reframe to say, “I am lovable, worthy of good things, and am grateful for my life. The hope I held in my heart was blessed with the birth of my daughter. My mother is my best friend. The three of us spend time together, talking and laughing and going on road trips. Mama is next door and I see her almost every day. My daughter comes home from college to visit. Mama, my daughter, and my dog love and need me. I have friends that tell me they love me. With all the love I have around me, it helps me to see my life is actually beautiful.”
I reframe “I am a control freak!” into “The truth is, I am not in control. God is. I have to learn to let him know what I want and leave it in his capable hands. I know he answers prayers, just not always in the way I’d like or understand. Sometimes his answer is yes, no, or not yet.” It’s acknowledging you can’t do this life on your own.
Patience and trust have always been the hardest practices for me to learn, and as a recovering control freak, I’m learning to just breathe, sit in the passenger seat of my life and allow God to drive. It’s very new for me. Life becomes a lot easier, though, when you give up the need to be in control. Once you learn to let go and be present in the moment, your life and depression and the way you perceive everything changes dramatically. It’s as if you can finally watch as your life unfold before you. But it’s a tool you have to work on every day.
Something else I do to distract my mind from ego is make a list of the things that bring me joy.
Schedule some time each day or each week to do some of those things. Depending on my mood, one or more of these will be just the trick to bring me a jolt of happiness or ease. When I’m deeply rapt in the darkness of depression, I can’t think straight. That’s when I consult my list and take part in the item that resonates with me in that moment. The light starts to come back in. These line items can be fond memories, people that make me smile, or activities that bring me joy. Taking action in the activities is the best, by far, because busy hands and a busy mind helps tame the depression beast.
Here are some direct quotes from my list (I keep it in my day planner):
“(a) Write. It can help me work through an issue or engage in a fantasy that allows my mind to escape for a jaunt. Writing is my most beloved and longestloved creative freedom.
(b) Cook. I love to find a new delicious recipe, try it out, invite my family over, and catch up with each other, talk and laugh.
(c) Dance to my favorite tunes. Move yo butt. Dance a crazy dance as if I’m in a music video. It’s hilarious. Plus, if I do this, I get exercise while I’m laughing. Win-win.
(d) Get grounded. Take my dog for a walk or go out by myself. Walk barefoot. Lay in the grass. Listen to nature. Feel the sun shining down on my skin.”
Find things you enjoy doing. Busy your hands and minds and it will distract you from your depression and overthinking mind. Practice gratitude. Don’t let one day pass before you express your thanks. Keep a note on your phone or write in your journal a list of seven to ten people/places/things you are grateful for daily. I feel this is so good for your heart, soul, and mind. There is always much to be grateful for. I know I have so much in my life. My wonderful mother and daughter, my dog, my home, good health, road trips, sweet caring friends, and fun. I count my blessings daily.
And just remember; we all have bad days, bad weeks, even terrible childhoods, but please don’t mistake that for a bad life. When you feel down, take out your list of those bringers of joy. Focus on those you love. Do those things that bring you joy. Let the sun shine on your face or dance in the rain.
Writing these lists and “reframes” are simply good therapy for me and allow the light in when all I’m feeling is darkness. When I make a daily habit of expressing myself through feelings, like writing in a journal, I can also therapize myself by sometimes seeking a solution, if only to realize I’m feeling negative and I’m probably overthinking everything. That usually means I’m probably wrong in my perception and tomorrow will be better.
Have your bad day. Have a good cry. Sleep it off. Take a mental health day—what I like to call “mentalpause.” And know that, as Mama always says, “This too shall pass.”