Self talk

I’ve done it for years, and I have noticed others too. Self talk, the gentle encouragement, or the talking of oneself off a ledge, so important a coping tool for depression sufferers and those with anxiety.

It’s usually done silently for fear of being discovered by those around us. We fear being judged or avoided for being a nutbag. Today I view self talk as a sign of great strength. I was asked on social media, “What’s something you miss from childhood?” and I was surprised to learn by reading the first few responses that there were people who had nothing good to say about their formative years. One person had been adopted, another abused, both potentially severe traumas for young people. I miss most the encouraging words I received from my folks, my sisters, my teachers, and friends. I think that gift of encouragement in the form of talking me through challenges, led me to the practice of tapping into my inner messages. These are the most private messages sent to yourself when stressed or faced with some important task.

“What the hell have you done?”

“What gave you the idea you could do this?”

“Nobody knows how really scared I am right now..”

All of these types of messages, the self talk in our own heads, have to pass through your ear gate. In his book “Attitude is Everything,” Keith Harrell defines your ear gate as the source of entry of power or the lack of self esteem that people encounter throughout their waking life. I had the great pleasure of seeing Harrell speak at a seminar for professional skills trainers sponsored by AchieveGlobal. Harrell was one of the most dynamic motivational speakers I have ever encountered. He took his audience through a range of emotions, at times bringing us to tears with the power and truth of his message. I’ve hyperlinked his Vimeo story in case you need a lift in your day. It’s about 17 minutes long, but worth every second of your time investment, and it explains the importance of guarding your psyche from negative messages that we may let past our ear gates.

Self talk has helped me to dig myself out of a very deep and lasting depressive episode in my last 4 years. I’m now getting ready to re-enter the workforce and I am using self talk to help me regain the great confidence and love for public speaking I once enjoyed. Please give your impression of the value of self talk, and also your thoughts about one of my favorite people, Keith Douglas Harrell.

Courage to continue

Success is never permanent. Failure is never final.  It is the courage to continue that matters most.

— Sir Winston Churchill

I’ve just watched the Oscar winning performance of Gary Oldman as Sir Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour” and am in awe of the leadership and imperfection that was portrayed in the life of one of history’s most colorful and charismatic leaders. As usual I will not spoil the film for those who may not have seen it, but one clear message that sticks with me is how important the belief in oneself is in life. There is wisdom to periodically question yourself, and value in listening to your gut but also to seek the counsel of others.

As depression strikes people, we doubt our ability to perform even simple tasks. We question our judgment, fall prey to detractors, and lose confidence often in a visible and noticeable way.  Depression never chooses a good time to slap us in the face or pin us to the floor.  Just this week I’ve had two very powerful people succumb to depression, and I was very grateful to be welcomed into their trust when they asked for my ear.  Both are learned professionals, dedicated to their jobs, and known to me for over forty years.  Both have survived divorce, abuse, and learned for themselves to survive and to cope at early ages.

What I find to be most admirable about them both is that they possess immeasurable courage to continue.  One is a school teacher who was devastated by the school shooting at Parkland, Florida.  She teaches special needs students and was commanded by the state of Florida to present a video recorded message preparing young school children in  the event of a live shooter siege that might occur.  As my teacher friend screened the message, the gravity of what was conveyed hit her.  She envisioned what might happen if she had to place herself in the line of fire in order to protect a beloved student.  The weight of this development in her job, on top of immense responsibility for managing the care of her mother, an Alzheimer’s sufferer, was too much and she snapped.   By the time I was able to see her at the hospital, she had already recovered significantly to know that she could no longer be a teacher in a state like Florida, where we have spineless leaders, owned by the wealthy gun manufacturers, unwilling to limit in any way the access to Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Courage to continue was driven by self preservation, but also for the precious family for which she will always be a rock.

Do we give ourselves credit for our courage?

Can you remember the last time you stroked your own ego, even if just a little bit, for the courage we summon to power through difficult times?  It’s not hard to find people in our circle of friends, those people who are battling dread disease, or have endured abuse of some kind. Humans are resilient, even if in the midst of a depressed episode we may not feel like it.  I was worried for my two friends because it is my nature to be pessimistic. When it comes down to it, at no time during these long friendships have I ever been disappointed by them.  As I sat by the bedside of my very beleaguered teacher friend, she thanked me and reminded me of times in our history that I’d come to her aid years ago, the things which I’d long forgotten, and she has long remembered.  In return and without thought for the cost, she had pulled me from a two year depression that followed my divorce.  Courage is just a helping hand to get started down the path that we know is away from depression and toward feeling better.  I’d like to recommend to anyone reading this that you can easily find one thing for which you deserve credit for having the courage to continue.  Celebrate it. Replicate it.  Pay it forward, and hold on to the great feeling of being courageous.

Anger

Why not be angry? You’re depressed, your life and senses are different than most people. One friend from this site told me “if one more person gives me an eye roll,” or “yes I know that I am lucky to be alive, and to have what comforts I do, but that’s not helpful to remind me how YOU think I should be feeling.” Imagine judging someone’s deeply personal feeling, and trying to shame them out of a condition like depression. Depression isn’t a choice for people, though I believe depressed people do have some control over how long a depressive episode lasts. If people could choose their emotions, depression would not be my choice.

I remember having a discussion with my mother a year or so before she died. She was 94, had arthritis of the everything, a fibrillation, stenosis of the spine, hypothyroidism, a host of maladies that would likely beset peers of her age. In spite of those problems, Mom walked on her own, or with a cane for distance. She colored her own hair, prepared some of her own meals. She had abilities that many people decades younger didn’t have. On this night, I’d prepared dinner for Mom, her boyfriend, my sister, and me, packaged it up and drove it across town to Mom’s house. As was her usual habit, Mom had a late start getting bathed and ready for dinner, so the food I’d brought over would be cooling while we waited for Mom to finish dressing herself. As she came to dinner, glancing at the covered food dishes, she sneered “I had potatoes with lunch.” I was displeased, but I remained calm as I said “wish I’d known that, I could’ve made us something else.” “How are you doing?” I asked as I hugged and kissed her. “Terrible….” she answered, everything hurts me.”

I knew she was sincere, and a few years after her passing I know now that she hated being the Last Mohican of her family and friends. She watched them die in hospitals, homes, and attended their funeral services. I know that it troubled her to think about how many different medications she had been prescribed for blood thinning, high blood pressure, cholesterol, and so on. Yet I still said, “Wow Mom, you are so much better off than people younger than you are, in Assisted Living Facilities, or nursing homes, unable to do or care for themselves.” “There are people living with advanced organic brain syndromes who don’t recognize their own children.” “They’d trade places with you in a second.”

Wasn’t that a cheery thing to say to Mom? She didn’t answer or snarl at me. In her heart, she knew that I was doing what people her age had always been told to do. Accentuate the positive, don’t dwell on the half empty water glass, the things you can no longer do.

About a year ago I finally heard an acceptable answer to the water glass analogy, forgive me if you’ve already heard this, but I found it to be very enlightening. When considering optimism or pessimism and a glass of water metaphor, it does not matter how much water is in the glass. What does matter is:

  • How long do I have to hold this glass of water out in front of my body?
  • If I’m forced to hold onto it for a long time, then being full means the glass becomes very heavy over time, and much more difficult to hold onto without dropping it.

Depressed people have to process through their depression, or if they choose to repress it, the depression becomes a heavy glass being held indefinitely. It hurts, and nobody knows just by looking at you that you suffer depression. There’s no plaster cast to show evidence of a broken bone, no stitches, no burned skin, or something tangible that lets others see our predicament.

What do you think others should do?

For the purposes of coexistence, the tolerance of those unwitting people who do not suffer depression and therefore they can’t relate exactly with how we are feeling, what can we want them to do? Should they leave us alone until we come around? Should they try to talk us out of our bad mood by telling us how good we have it? Depressed people can do the world a favor and help others know there are some helpful things we want them to accept about us.

  • Depression is real
  • Feeling depressed is not a choice, we don’t feel depressed for attention
  • Sometimes an episode is protracted, it takes time to get through it
  • We need awareness, and some slack.
  • If more than a few days pass, it’s ok to ask “what can I do?”

That last one has a big caveat; if the answer is “you can’t do anything,” that needs to be acceptable by both parties. If I’m in a funk, I now realize that others have detected my mood swing, then I should acknowledge their concern. Maybe “please forgive me, I’m having some personal down time.” I guess they’ll just have to believe us when we say “I’m not quite feeling 100% today,” or something more pointed such as “I’d rather not go there” and wait us out.

What do you think?