How I Reclaimed the Self-Worth My Depression Took From Me
Depression did a real number on my self-worth. I can’t even tell you precisely when it happened. I have had depression for over a decade. It has mostly gone untreated because I denied it was a problem. I also have chronic pain, and in my mind, who wouldn’t have depression with chronic pain? But somewhere along the line, I began to feel worthless, hopeless and of no value.
During that time, I struggled a great deal to function at work because of the depression and chronic pain. They become entangled together. The more days I missed and the less I was able to function, the more guilty I felt. The more guilty I felt, the more my depression told me how worthless I was as a human being and to society as a whole. The more I seemed to fail, the more these thoughts were reinforced.
As a result, I felt hopeless about my situation. I felt like there was nothing I could do that would improve it. I felt like no matter how hard I tried, I’d never be able to achieve anything with my illnesses. I had some pretty pervasive suicidal thoughts at the time. And I felt like nothing I did had any value. That I had no value.
Self-worth is vital. Why pursue treatment when you just don’t matter? Why see a doctor over a symptom that might not be “important enough?” Why waste people’s time?
I remained like this for years and years, until I finally saw a psychologist and treated my depression with medication. The psychologist blatantly told me I had a poor sense of self-worth and I was taken aback. I hadn’t realized it. I knew my depressive thoughts were not gentle to my sense of self, but it never occurred to me that it had damaged my view of self.
My brain never gave me a break from anything it perceived as a personal flaw. If I did something good, it forgot about it instantly. Focusing on the negative is sometimes a cognitive game our brain plays when dealing with depression. And I excelled at it.
My psychologist had me start writing down some things I achieved each day and a goal for the next day. This helped with my motivation and self-worth. I could see my productivity, even if it was something small. And I would set one goal for the next day. I still do this now, because the feeling of productivity helps me feel better each day.
I also started a mood/cognitive thought journal. When I had an excessively negative thought, I would write it down. Then I would write down a more realistic thought and express what sort of reasoning I was using to change the thought. For example; was I focusing on the negative rather than the positive or was I catastrophizing? Then, I would compare my initial mood to the mood I had after adjusting the thought. When you do this enough, you really begin to focus on your thinking and the habitual, automatic thoughts your brain has been spitting out. Eventually, they occur less often and you begin to catch the negative thoughts more.
Our thought process can be an integral part of depression. Why did I have low self-worth? Because I was telling myself in a thousand little ways how worthless I was.
The psychiatrist also had me write down positive characteristics about myself and positive things I have done. This took tremendous effort on my part. My brain, like a weak muscle, wasn’t used to focusing on parts of myself that were worthy of praise. And my brain didn’t take praise well from others.
My brain muscle needed to be trained to accept kind words from others, to negate negative thinking and redefine its own sense of worth. This took time, and I am still working on it. I will likely be working on it for a while. But at least I know I am worth the effort now.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Thinkstock photo via ParfonovaIuliia