You suck. You can’t do it. You can’t do anything. Do these thoughts sound familiar? If you have depression, you may be hearing these things everyday–from yourself.
Negative self talk is one of the most insidious aspects of depression, because when you constantly tell yourself bad things, you eventually start to believe them. Because who knows you better than you, right? If you keep having these thoughts, they must be true, right?
WRONG. Absolutely wrong. That’s why depression is such a terrible thing–it messes with your mind.
But you need your mind to fight back….See the problem?
That’s the tricky thing about mental illnesses, the fact that they attack the very part of you that is required to fight them and get better. That’s why they’re so brutal, and because this fight is all invisible and internal, that’s why people often don’t see them as “real” illnesses.
There is still a huge stigma around mental illness, and so it becomes easy for sufferers to start internalizing the negativity, thinking that there’s nothing really wrong with you, you’re just lazy/not trying hard enough/not talented enough/not smart enough/not good enough in general.
It’s easy to fall into the thinking trap that it’s your own fault.
But when you can see past the fog of depression, it’s clear to see that it’s obviously not your fault. Who would choose to feel so terrible? Not me, and certainly not you.
Depression isn’t a choice, and that’s something neurotypical people seem to have a difficult time understanding. It’s also difficult for sufferers to understand sometimes too, so i want to reinforce it for you—you didn’t choose this. It’s not your fault. Okay?
Whether your depression is circumstantial or chronic, it doesn’t matter. You are not to blame. Say it out loud, right now.
“It’s not my fault.”
Of course, acknowledging this doesn’t mean that the voice in your head screaming negativity and self deprecation at you will just shut up.
Negative self talk is a symptom of depression, and it’s unlikely to just go away. So instead, you have to manage it.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has a common technique for this, which is distancing yourself from the thought.
It works like this. Instead of saying, “I am a failure,” try saying, “I’m having the thought that I’m a failure.”
Then go further, and add a but/because.
“I’m having the thought that I’m a failure, but I’m not because [I am good at my job.][I am a good mother.][I am still fighting.][etc.]
This is particularly helpful when the negative thoughts you are thinking are objectively not true.
For example, you may think, “I’m useless. I didn’t get anything done today.” You may not have, and that’s ok, but chances are you did at least one thing, however small. Went to work. Tidied the kitchen. Fed the dogs. Showered. Remind yourself of this. The distancing can often make it easier.
Say, “I’m having the thought that I’m useless, but I’m not, because I fed the dogs today.”
Start to use this distancing technique whenever you are having self deprecating thoughts.
In line with the philosophy here at Slay Your Demons, I like to take it even a step further.
Instead of attributing the thought to yourself, create a whole separate entity for all the negative thoughts in your brain. A bad guy, if you will. Create a personality for them and give them a name.
Mine is called Bad Brain. And he is a jerk. (As an aside, I often visualize him as a pink brain with glasses and a classically evil black moustache to twirl.)
He tries to tell me all kinds of mean things that aren’t true. When I’m having negative thoughts, my partner asks me what Bad Brain is saying, and reminds me to tell him to just shut up.
By personifying the negative thoughts as a tangible enemy, it’s easier to “fight back” against them, and tell them to just leave you alone. I find it is, anyway.
Because then it’s not yourself, per se, that you’re fighting, but this weird, parasitic enemy inside of you. And for me, that provides even more distance, allowing me more space to rebel against what it is saying.
So like, if Bad Brain is trying to get me to just lie on the couch and be sad all day cause i suck, I can tell him off. “Oh yeah, you’d like that wouldn’t you, Bad Brain? So you could yell at me some more. Well, I’m not gonna go on the couch. I’m gonna go write. Just watch me.”
Depending on your preference, you can also go with a simple, “Fuck you, Bad Brain. You’re wrong,” and go about your business.
It doesn’t matter how you interact with your own Bad Brain, or whatever you decide to call it, but what matters is that you can recognize that it’s a separate part of you, a part that comes from your illness, not your true self.
That’s the key I think. To remember that negative self talk is a symptom of your disease, it’s not who you are. So keep on fighting the negative thoughts as best you can.
And remember, you can always tell Bad Brain to shut up.