Monthly Archives: February 2016

Upside, Downside

Do you ever feel life’s out to get you? One thing after another relentlessly thrown at you. Stuff keeps going wrong. “I can’t take much more of this!” you cry. Been there?

Life throws tough stuff at all of us and we all need our own coping mechanisms to deal with it. You may go for a walk or run to clear your head; you may do something creative to escape; you may eat chocolate (serotonin levels in dark chocolate can actually act as an effective anti-depressant!). When life stuff throws tough stuff at me, I write about it. Always have done. It helps me process what has happened and how I’m feeling about it.

That’s why I started this blog about depression and anxiety. And, do you know what? It has genuinely been helping me replace my negative thoughts with clearer thinking. As well as helping me personally, I know it’s also been helping lots of other people, simply because they can relate to similar experiences. “Keep blogging!” people tell me. And all the time it’s helping, I will.

This blog is a good thing. But I feel I am being attacked for doing it. It’s almost as if there’s a strange force opposing me every time I blog. I have written three posts now (this is the fourth) and the day after I have published each one, without fail, I have had a car crash. Now, I’m not superstitious in the slightest, but I can’t help but feel life is out to get me here: I do something positive and proactive. I feel hopeful, helpful and encouraged. Then I have a car crash. I feel (quite literally) knocked back down.

Catastrophizing is a common symptom of depression and anxiety; it is an irrational thought a lot of us have in believing that something is far worse than it actually is. I do this a lot. It’s my default setting. I have to make a conscious effort not to see things as all doom and gloom. Depression isn’t a choice, but my attitude is. Bugs Bunny once said:

“Do not take life too seriously – you will never get out of it alive.”

Very good advice. So in an attempt to not take things too seriously, I’m going to turn life into a game. I heard Chris Evans play this game with his listeners on Radio 2 last week. It’s called ‘Upside, Downside’. You identify something in your life that you’re struggling with or not looking forward to (that’s the downside), then you look for the positive in that situation (that’s the upside).

For example…

Downside: I had a car crash on the motorway. Upside: Another driver stopped the traffic so I could get my car safely onto the hard shoulder.

Downside: I had to wait on the side of the motorway on my own for over an hour for roadside assistance to come. It was dark and I was freezing cold and hungry. Upside: I knew there was help on the way. A kind man came to my rescue and took me and (what was left of) my car home where my mum and dad were waiting for me with blankets, hot water bottles and a delicious dinner.

Downside: My car is now completely destroyed. Upside: It was already written off and only suitable for scrap anyway because of my previous incidents!

Downside: I have to get a new car. Upside: I’m getting a new car!

Downside: I can’t get to work for a couple of days. Upside: This only frustrates me because I’m very fortunate to have a job I love.

Downside: The crash was the scariest experience of my life and I thought I was going to die. Upside: I didn’t die, and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

“Don’t judge me by my successes. Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” Nelson Mandela

Life will knock us down at some point. It may even feel like you’re being constantly punched to the ground at times. But you can choose to get back up again. Make life a game of ‘Upside, Downside’. Try it, it really does work! There is always an upside, even if it takes a bit of searching for…

Downside: I don’t have a car at the moment. Upside: It’s impossible for me to have a car crash tomorrow!

Unlovable

I once asked someone who had suffered with depression what it was that eventually pulled them out from under their dark cloud. “The love of a wonderful man,” they told me. Great, I thought. Negative thinking kicks in. I don’t have that. I’m not in a romantic relationship and don’t know when (or if) I will be. Clearly there’s no hope for me then.

 “Three main features of depression are feeling unlovable, feeling that you are worthless and feeling as though you have no control over relationships.” Dr Kevin Stark

In the midst of deep depression, the feeling of worthlessness is very strong. No one’s tells me I’m worthless. No one except the bully that is depression. “You’re pathetic, you’re pointless,” depression sneers at me. People around me tell me otherwise, but nothing they say is as loud and believable as the bully. This leads to a lack of self-esteem and self-belief; I think I’m a horrible person. And why would anyone want to have anything to do with a horrible person? Anxiety tells me all the people close to me will suddenly give up on me.

What about love? Well, depression tells me I’m not worthy of it. Anxiety tells me it will never happen. I came to the conclusion that depression and anxiety must be right. My lack of boyfriend confirmed my negative feelings; that I’m worthless and unlovable. My sisters have boyfriends. Lots of my friends are moving in with their partners, cementing their long-term relationships, getting engaged… Of course, I am delighted for them and love sharing their excitement. But at the same time, I’m very aware that I can’t start setting up a life with someone I love. Negative thinking kicks in. Why don’t I have a boyfriend? What’s wrong with me? I feel left out, left behind and lonely.

Experiencing romantic love is one of the deepest desires of my I heart. I long to find someone to love and someone who loves me in return. But it’s important to identify that there is no causal relationship between being single and having depression. I’m not single because I have depression, and I don’t have depression because I’m single. The absence of a boyfriend is not what got me into depression and finding a wonderful one won’t be the thing that gets me out of it. I know this because there are people with depression who are in wonderful, stable romantic relationships and still feel just us unlovable as I do.

Even though it sometimes feels like it, I am not the only single person in the world. So, without romantic love at this point in my life, what’s left? Well, quite a lot actually. There are different types of love. When I tell depression and anxiety to shut up, I can see that I am surrounded by friends and family who love me unconditionally. They show this on a regular basis, in all sorts of wonderful ways.

But, there’s another type of love, and I think it’s this love which is at the heart of overcoming depression: self-love. This is not loving yourself in an egocentric way, arrogantly thinking you’re better than everyone else, but assuring yourself that you’re every bit as good as them. This is realising your self-worth. After listening to the lies of depression and anxiety for so long, this is something I need to do before I’m ready to love someone else and let them love me in return.

So my next step in trying to beat depression and anxiety is to learn to love myself. Yes, I still long for a romantic relationship but I shouldn’t be waiting around for a boyfriend to validate my self-worth. ‘Single’ is not a synonym for ‘unlovable’. I’m going to make being single in my early 20s an exciting time of self-discovery, self-acceptance and self-love.

 “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” Oscar Wilde