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How to Cope If Depression and Anxiety Make You Struggle With Self-Doubt

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If anxiety and depression had a baby, it would be named “self-doubt.” Also, that baby would suck.

Anxiety and depression are the most common side effects in any individual diagnosed with a mental illness. Sometimes it’s general anxiety or clinical depression specifically, and sometimes it’s a symptom of a larger problem such as bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder. I have to remind myself daily that even neurotypical people get anxious or experience waves of depression, and to some degree, managing these emotions are a normal part of being human. Regardless of normality, it’s difficult to handle the scope of self-doubt, which is the perfect storm of depression and anxiety. The struggle is literally in the name: how do you manage your unfavorable symptoms like anxiety and depression when you doubt your ability to do so in the first place?

Sometimes self-doubt gets us when we’re applying ourselves to an activity or action, whether it’s a brand new endeavor or something we typically know we’re good at. This week, I’m making candles in the hopes I can open an online shop. Tomorrow, I’ll be experimenting with resin to make jewelry. Last month, I started a collective blog regarding mental illness (Girl Precarious), and a couple of weeks ago, I launched a Patreon to help me pay the bills while I try out this whole “writing” thing. I’m aware of the fact I’m constantly “switching channels” on what I want to funnel my energy into. I used to feel a great sense of pride when I’d skip from activity to activity. I felt like it indicated that I was multitalented and ambitious. On my good days, I still feel this way. On my bad days, however, I’m overwhelmed with a deep sense of self-doubt.

I worry I’m wasting my time trying to better myself and my situation. I worry I’m annoying my friends and loved ones with all my activities. I worry I’m a burden on my partner because he works day-in and day-out to pay the bills while I mess around with what (when my self-doubt kicks in) looks like hobbies. I worry, when my self-doubt is present, that I’m just a big joke and everyone around me is in on it but me.

Being a person with bipolar disorder, my moods fluctuate not only quickly, but in intensity. Where someone might experience a twinge of self-doubt when their projects aren’t reciprocated, or they aren’t progressing at the pace they feel they should be, I feel waves of palpable self-loathing and embarrassment. The most frustrating part of my disorder is not knowing “who” I’m going to be when I wake up each day. By way of my mood journal, I’ve noticed I almost always feel neutral early in the morning, but when my day is affected by some outside factor, it sets the tone for the rest of the day.

If I wake up to an encouraging comment on my blog in the morning, I’m likely to zip through my day with a pep in my step.

If I wake up to something disparaging or some light ribbing from a friend that I wasn’t prepared for, I’m likely to float through my day with anxiety and the overwhelming sense I’m a joke, a failure, not enough or too much.

In an attempt to prepare for my next swing of self-doubt, I try to remain aware that I’m overcome with emotion when I don’t receive the attention and encouragement I anticipate when I do something I’m proud of. I’m initially aware that this is kind of childish, but in an effort to be gentle with myself, I have to assume that this is, to some degree, a normal human reaction. Naturally, we’d all be better off if we didn’t rely so heavily on validation from others, but isn’t it kind of “normal” to want to be liked? Reminding myself I’m not alone in my emotions is always a first step to defeating self-doubt. Sometimes I don’t feel it, but I still try to remind myself to recite the truth: everyone feels this way sometimes.

Regarding self-doubt when progress is concerned, it would be great if we could pick up a new activity or pursue a new dream, and be lucky enough to damn near perfect it from the get-go. Unfortunately, this typically isn’t the case. When things don’t turn out the way we were hoping, self-doubt is a natural reaction. I find it helpful to read the stories behind the people I admire most. I typically find comfort in the fact it has taken most of them years to perfect their trade. It might not feel like it, but you’re getting better at doing whatever it is you’re doing every day, every time you give it a shot. Trust that this isn’t just a “feel-good” narrative, but absolutely the way things work: practice makes perfect. Sometimes you have to ignore the self-doubt and blindly trust you’re getting better and better with each attempt.

Self-doubt takes many forms. For me, it’s a fairly short (but intense) emotion that happens sporadically. Just like all my symptoms, self-doubt can be triggered by seemingly random outside influences. Sometimes, nothing at all triggers it — it just happens.

I have come to terms with the fact that self-doubt is going to rear its ugly head from time to time, with very little rhyme or reason … and sometimes the trigger is totally valid. Ultimately, the only thing that can defeat self-doubt is sitting tight, holding on and letting the storm pass. If all you can muster is a little self-love, that’s fine. Take a day to lick your wounds and feel sorry for yourself. That’s totally OK.

If you feel like you can power through it, the best thing you can do is try to prove yourself wrong. Taking things step by step, I encourage you to try to accomplish something no matter how small. Remind yourself that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and always trust that nothing is permanent. If you’re feeling self-doubt today, know it is totally valid, but it will pass.

If you have loved ones you can trust, seeking validation is not always a bad thing. Let them know how your feeling, and let them do what friends and family (are supposed to) do: reassure you that you have something magnificent to contribute to this world because, ultimately, you do. We all do. But, if all you can accomplish today is being kind to yourself while you process your emotions (the good and the bad), that’s absolutely OK. You should recognize you’re already taking the first step towards a more promising tomorrow.

Photo by Megan Bagshaw on Unsplash

Originally published: January 8, 2020
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