The great majority of depressed individuals are in fact very much loved, but it doesn’t help one bit because self-love and self-esteem are missing. At the bottom line, only your own sense of self-worth determines how you feel.~ David Burns M.D.
It was 2007, I remember walking from my kitchen to the dining room and a thought ran through my mind, “I can’t smile anymore.” At the same time, my reflection in the French door revealed an overweight body, and I quickly turned away. I hated myself. I hated the way I looked. I hated my weight. I hated my face. I had never been so unhappy.
I had just finished teaching middle school students, whom I loved, but fighting with an administration that disliked me as much as I disliked them. The stress had gotten to me, and I had taken to stopping at the McDonald’s drive-in on the way to school to get a chicken biscuit, hash browns, and large sweet tea each morning. My weight had started to climb, and my disconnect from everyone around me grew.
Up until that time, I had struggled with depression on and off during my life, but this bout had gripped me and hijacked my life. I was 46, so perimenopause could have played a role, but my habit of being negative, especially about myself was the powerful driver of my malaise.
The reason I am driven to write about this is due to the many students I encountered, while teaching first-year writing courses, who had been diagnosed with depression. Almost all of them said the same thing, “My depression is chronic, and I will have to live with it for the rest of my life.” Who had told them this? All were taking medication. I know this because they wrote about their depression in class assignments.
To be 18 or 19 and feel that for the rest of your life you will be dealing with depression must be a heavy load to carry. Being depressed already feels like walking up an incline overloaded with weight, so a terminal diagnosis must be unbearable.
Those students were sad. They were quiet. Each time someone presented a final research project on depression, I waited to see if anyone had found any nuggets of gold to help those who were suffering. This rarely happened. Students focused on the depression itself, what it felt like and how debilitating it was.
It might seem simplistic to say that depression comes from a low sense of worth, but research bears this out. A survey by Dr. Aaron Beck, considered the father of cognitive psychology, found that 80% of depressed patients expressed self-dislike.
The food I ate had a lot to do with how depressed I was, but I ate that food because I didn’t care about myself. I knew it was unhealthy. If we love and value ourselves, we choose healthy foods to nourish our bodies. I ate it to feel better for the moment, not caring about the consequences.
In fact, taking care of our bodies is a way of loving ourselves, saying that we are worthy of our own self-care. Staying up late, binge watching movies online, eating fast or junk food, and becoming sleep deprived are common stress management strategies of college students, but they are counterproductive. Certain foods have been known to affect mood, and alcohol is a known depressant. That is not good news when 60% or more of college students admit to drinking and ⅔ of those admit to binge drinking in the last month.
Adults are not much better. Eating foods that are high in fat, cholesterol, and processed, loaded with sugar and salt, may satisfy a stress filled craving, but they sabotage the ability to be healthy and vibrant. Those same adults stay up too late watching TV, eating late at night, drinking alcohol, and taking medications to help with sleep. Then the next morning they fiend for a cup or two of coffee to bring themselves back to life.
Many so-called experts look at these individual behaviors and point to those as the problem. The advice is to cut the caffeine, curb the drinking, get some sleep, and eat well (whatever that means because advice by doctors on nutrition is often misleading). However, symptom management, which is the default mode of modern medicine, just leaves people feeling like they lack the willpower to get healthy.
Self-destructive and unhealthy behaviors are signs of self-hate or low self-worth. Call it what you want, but know it for what it is. It is self-loathing. It comes from being so hard on ourselves that a big piece of chocolate cake or a bowl of ice cream will make us feel better, even if for only the few minutes it takes to finish. Then the self-hate kicks in, telling us we have no willpower, and beating us up emotionally for continuing to screw up.
Stop hating yourself and begin to love yourself, and you will start treating your body differently. I guarantee it. How do you do that? Stop putting yourself down. Stop finding fault with your actions. Learn to like yourself, first. Accept yourself, warts and all. Pay attention to your self-talk.
Catch yourself when you start to say something like, “I’m so stupid!” or “Why did I do that? I should have known better!” You will begin to recognize and catch your own self-hate speech. I heard a friend say, “You idiot!” when describing how she reacted to something she did at work. I cringed when she said it because it was with such passion.
Have compassion for yourself. Cut yourself some slack. Everyone messes up! No one is perfect in everything they do. Realize that everyone makes mistakes from time to time, and you are no different. It can help to treat yourself like you would a best friend. Would you call your friend an idiot? I hope not.
Find ways to love yourself. Ask yourself, “How can I learn to love myself?” and I assure you the answers will come. Begin your own unique path to loving yourself first, and the rest of your life will begin to fall into place.
After decades of fighting off depressed states, I no longer struggle with depression. I do face challenges, but I face them knowing I am doing my best, and when I falter, I am only learning. This change of mindset makes all the difference.
If you are reading this and have been depressed, I would love to hear how you found your self-worth. The more we share our stories, the more others can find healing.
Originally published at www.debyjizi.com on December 3, 2018.