Here’s a secret: Everyone talks to themselves

This post doesn’t have a moral or a clever insight about life, because most of the time I don’t see the bright side of everything. I have depression and most of the time I feel hopeless, worthless, despairing. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to (try) kill myself any time someone says something nasty to me.

It’s the depression talking

Depression has little to do with other people. It cannot be solved by others and it is not brought on by others. At least, not directly. In my experience, depression is a lens, a worldview that sorts and filters each one of your experiences according to certain truths you hold about life. As such, you can’t see your way out of depression and you feel completely isolated from everyone else’s reality. You don’t see the big picture, or if you do, you can’t see a place for yourself in that picture. You only see everyone else doing what seems impossible to you.

Falling Over Despair Blocks

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

According to the World Health Organisation, depression is caused by a complex interaction of biological, social and psychological elements. Often depression is a result of certain chemical imbalances in your body, which may be a result of genetic or environmental factors. These imbalances may be a result of genetics or environmental factors. Sometimes it’s the other way around, i.e. if you conform to a particular pattern of thought for long enough, it will bring about certain chemical processes in response to your thoughts and feelings, which in turn reinforces those beliefs.

I sometimes get the feeling that people are extra careful with me and hold back when they’re speaking to me, afraid that I am going to fall apart if they criticise or rebuke me. I am not sure whether this is because I tried to commit suicide, or because I am in a wheelchair, or if I am altogether imagining it. Of course it’s lovely that everyone is so nice to me, but sometimes I can’t help wondering if they are being honest and telling me everything. (At this rate, my paranoia will soon morph into fully-fledged conspiracy mongering. 😉 )

The truth is, I do tend to ponder on negative feedback and take it as reinforcement of the destructive perceptions I have of myself. That is a thought pattern I must break and in the meantime learn to cope with the hazards of life like everyone else. The best way of doing that is to change the way I talk to myself.

Get the straitjackets

Incompetent Word Displays Unskilled Incapable And Inexperienced

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yes, everyone talks to themselves. Don’t pretend you haven’t had full-blown conversations about why you should/shouldn’t get out of bed when it’s still dark outside on a winter morning. Or about how if you had just done that one thing differently, you would be so much better off now. Or about how if you hadn’t been such a pathetic, useless, shameful human being you might have actually achieved something by now. That’s how my conversations go anyway.

When you speak to your children or friends or partner, you are encouraging, patient, kind, supportive and protective. What about when you speak to yourself? After all, you spend 100% of your time with yourself. If there is no love, how could you not want to be rid of yourself?

I am fortunate to have wise people teaching me and guiding me along this journey. One of the most important things I learnt from them in the past few months is that you can change the way you think about yourself by changing the way you talk to yourself. So maybe there is a moral here after all.

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Introducing … me! (and my depression)

Although it has only been a few months since my depression was officially diagnosed, it is so liberating to finally acknowledge it. This post is a bit more about that part of my story.

The black hole of depression

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have been suffering from depression for over ten years, starting in my adolescence. I didn’t seek professional help until after my failed suicide attempt at the age of 25. At first I was in denial about my depression, telling myself that everything would be better when I left school, or got my first job, or came out as gay. Then I immersed myself in various projects, causes and hobbies, in a bid to distract myself or fill the void that depression had gradually dug within me.

I did not believe that a psychologist would be able to say something that would suddenly make me feel better, so I tried to fix it myself. I thought depression was something I should just “snap out of”. That it was an excuse neurotic housewives made up to talk about their “problems”. I used to feel guilty about it, that I was weak or self-centred or a bad Christian for having depression. I used to feel so alone, that nobody else would understand, because no one else gave any hint that they might feel it too.

My depression was finally diagnosed in London while I was in hospital there, recovering from my suicide attempt. I have since moved back to Cape Town and have been seeing a psychiatrist for regularly therapy. Now I know that depression is a treatable illness and that there are effective coping methods for it.

Hope and Despair buttons

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In the first two weeks after my suicide attempt became public knowledge, I received five different emails from people in my network saying that they had been in therapy for years to treat their depression. Some of these people I counted among my closest friends and yet we had never opened up to each other about this side of our lives. We need to stop making depression a taboo subject, something to be ashamed of. When we speak about depression, we should stop using terms like “confessing” or “admitting” to depression. We must educate adolescents about depression and prepare our youth to recognise the symptoms and have the confidence to seek treatment. They need to know that they are not alone and where they can go to for help.

Depression is an illness, not an identity; something you have, not something you are.