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