Being hard on yourself?

I’m in a rough spot and it’s tough to admit. When tough times come along, I find great solace in writing. After blogging and sharing my writing for four years, I’ve learned that it helps others to share what I’m going through because so often we relate to each other’s human experiences.

Finding the strength to be honest and vulnerable in this moment is difficult. I’m afraid of judgment and criticism. I was reminded last week that everyone is afraid of what other people think. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’re going through, we all seek approval and acceptance as a survival mechanism.

If I distilled my current challenges into two areas, they include my mental health and the way I treat myself.

A few years ago, I shared an article on the Huffington Post about overcoming depression. Toward the end of the article, I proclaimed my newfound happiness and joy being able to help others through my blog and coaching business. Looking back on the article, I feel shame because I didn’t share the entire truth.

The truth is that I’ve never been diagnosed with depression single handedly. The full story is that I was diagnosed with bipolar type 1 back in 2009 before I turned 19 years old. Since the initial diagnosis, I’ve had four manic episodes and a multitude of depressive episodes.

Sharing this on my blog is scary and relieving. It’s scary because I have no idea how others will respond and relieving because it feels good to be honest about the shame.

My mental health is a challenge because it often gets in the way of how I want to live my life. Having bipolar manic episodes has destroyed relationships, delayed personal and professional growth, and jeopardized financial wellbeing. After manic episodes, I’ve had to deal with depression. Hopelessness, sadness, lack of motivation and shame keep me from timely recovery and feeling better.

After nine years of having bipolar, I’ve learned and implemented helpful and difficult coping strategies including talk therapy, medication, exercise, diet, stress management and social support. Finding the correct cocktail of support is an art and science. I still haven’t figured out the best balance for me personally, and I accept that it takes a lifetime of trial and error to determine the correct mix of support for my body.

This leads to my second challenge: the way I treat myself. Aside from managing my bipolar symptoms, I struggle with self-esteem. Since childhood, even years before I was diagnosed with bipolar, I resort to anger and being “hard on myself” for the mistakes I make, setbacks I experience, and constant perfectionism. This constant battle makes it almost impossible to recognize anything I do right.

As a result of being hard on myself, I remain my own worst critic and get mad at myself for decisions I make and the results of those decisions. When I get depressed and hard at myself at the same time, reality becomes skewed. I become incongruent with the person that I really am deep down inside.

This leads me to share my current state of mental health. This is scary to share on my blog but here it goes: I’m currently battling depression. It’s difficult because I envision myself as a source of hope, guidance and inspiration for people who also struggle with depression. If they find out I’m depressed, they could turn away from me. It’s also difficult because I fear some people won’t understand depression, and they’ll criticize my lack of motivation. For me and countless others, depression is an endless cycle of fear, shame, and loneliness.

I continue to experiment with treatment. Sometimes they work and other times they don’t. Aside from traditional treatment, several reminders continue to surface in difficult times. I’d like to share these reminders with you as a source of comfort and hope:

Reminder 1: No matter how hard you’re on yourself, recognize your small and “insignificant” actions. I usually demean actions that are inherently good, positive, or healthy because I expect more of myself. Most recently, I haven’t been able to recognize the fact that I put together a professional marketing proposal for a prospective client in the midst of depression. I also haven’t been able to recognize and appreciate that I get out of bed, brush my teeth, put on my clothes and many other worthy actions.

Since I can’t recognize these small actions as worthy because I’m hard on myself and expect myself to save the world, I’m allowing others to recognize these actions on my behalf. The key to this is you have to accept and believe it when the other person acknowledges and celebrates your action. This is rare because we’re often only recognized for big, “significant” achievements.

Finding a kind, compassionate cheerleader is vital for this to work. I’m grateful to have a therapist who acknowledges and celebrates small actions when I’m depressed. If you don’t have anyone, write me back and I’ll celebrate you.

Reminder 2: The past is over and the future hasn’t happened. No matter how angry I get about the past, it’s physically and mentally impossible to change the past. The future isn’t reality, so it’s not useful buying into negative stories about the future. Similar to the first reminder, it’s helpful to have a friend help recognize these truths.

Reminder 3: Accept what we can’t control. I don’t attend Alcoholics Anonymous nor do I prescribe to any 12-step program, but I appreciate this mantra that’s often brought up in those communities sans the religious aspect: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

I can’t change my bipolar diagnosis and I can’t change how others will respond to my manic and depressive behavior. Every day is a practice to realize, understand and accept this reality. I have power over my treatment if I follow it. I also have the power to learn from mistakes, adopt new habits, and adjust my thoughts with support. This isn’t easy but it’s possible and there’s always hope.

Reminder 4: You’re never alone. This is the absolute scariest truth I’ve ever shared on my blog but I hope it sheds light on the gravity of the experience. In the darkest moments of my depression, I’ve had suicidal thoughts. I feel brave enough to share this because I realize it’s common and 100% preventable. Thinking about the impact suicide would have on my friends and family coupled with the fact that I’m too much of a coward to take action on it, has prevented me from taking my life.

This isn’t a light subject. I take responsibility for mentioning it through this medium. With that responsibility, it’s my moral obligation to share the suicide prevention hotline number if you’re ever in need of someone to talk with immediately. I’m not ashamed to share that I’ve called them before. They’re supportive listeners and always available for free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

For ongoing support, it’s vital to know that people are out there who care about you and have gone through similar experiences. I find it comforting to know famous people also struggle with bipolar and depression. Some of those famous people who’re open and honest about their struggles more recently include Dwayne Johnson, Mariah Carey, and Demi Lovato. Mental health can affect anyone regardless of status and background.

People who struggle with mental health exist everywhere. If you don’t suffer, you can always be supportive to those who do struggle. Simply be a listener to anyone in need. Your compassion and empathy are a great deal of goodness in the world.

I realize this is a heavy blog post. Thank you for holding space for me and yourself. Please rest assured that I’m in a safe environment with good support to get through these tough times. Life presents good and bad times. When times get better, we can appreciate this experience called “life.”

If you relate to my struggles, I hold space for you in my heart. Keep in mind the above reminders and trust you’re exactly where you need to be. Should you feel compelled to share your challenges or story with me, I’m honored to listen and be of support to you. I’m here for you and I reply to every response received.