Can positive affirmations actually be bad for us?
I have been pondering this a lot lately, one particular positive affirmation that I have seen countless times recently has really got under my skin. It goes something like this…
‘Unfuck yourself, be who you were before all that stuff dimmed your fucking shine’
Of course when I first saw it I had a little snigger, because I am still immature enough to find swearing amusing and a little bit naughty, but I quickly realized that this particular affirmation did not sit well with me. What if you can’t be who you were? What if life has changed so much that you can never be who you were and, as in my case, what if you don’t want to go back?
I have come to think of my life in two parts, my life before post natal depression and my life after, I was one person before and I feel like I became someone else after. It was strange to me to begin with, that this was where the line was drawn, I had always kind of expected that one day I would feel different, maybe I would feel like I had actually grown up or feel in some way akin to being a grown up, somehow I would be different than before. But Marriage, career success and children still hadn't changed the very core of my being, I still felt like me. Post Natal depression though, that has changed me forever.
Of course having children changes the way you see the world in lots of ways, your life takes on a different meaning and they become the center of most of your thoughts. For me it went further than that though, when I developed post natal depression after the birth of my daughter, my second child, I lost my sense of self all together.
My depression began with my mood swinging between anger and being tearful and overwhelmed but it quickly descended into a numbness like nothing I had ever felt. I was entirely detached from what was going on around me and felt like my brain was crawling along so sluggishly that I couldn't understand how it was not obvious to everyone who knew me that I wasn't really there.
As I began to recover I still felt all wrong, like a vase that has been dropped and glued back together but some shards were still missing, never to be seen again, there was enough left to still be useful but some intricate parts were gone. This was only exacerbated by the fact that my career, which has spanned almost a decade, had come to an abrupt end when the company that I worked for was taken over. Between depression and redundancy the old me had vanished. Where I had once felt confident, knowledgeable and able in many ways I now felt unsure of myself, I questioned everything and I worried constantly about how I was perceived by everyone around me. Where I used to be sociable and outgoing, I was now withdrawn and had cut myself off from friends and loved ones. Where I used to be able to offer advice and support, I now felt like a total fraud. I had withdrawn myself from all my friends aside from one or two who knew some of what I was going through and just the thought of having to encounter others and make small talk, let alone talk about the big things, exhausted me.
So why wouldn’t I want to go back to the me I was before?
The thing is, I have come to think of my recovery a little like emerging from a chrysalis, not that I am now a beautiful butterfly, but I am more able now to appreciate what I have got, as well as who I have got around me. Sure there are parts of me that I do miss, parts I still grieve for, I am not sure I will ever be as confident as I once was, but I am certainly more honest about who I am and what I am going through, I am more aware of what others may be going through, I hope I am a little less likely to jump to conclusions based on the face people show to the world, a little less quick to anger, a little more understanding. Through my vulnerability I have learnt so many things and how could I ever want to change that. I have been inspired to write and I am more certain than ever about the way I want to bring my children up, the way I want to show them the world and the kindness I want to instill in them.
And so we come back to the affirmation, my shine was well and truly dimmed but maybe now I just shine in a different way, not worse, not better, just different. But if we are telling ourselves that to be better we must go back to the way we were before the hard things happen to us are we not just setting ourselves up for dissatisfaction? do we not learn from our experiences, our mistakes and our triumphs?
Life before post natal depression, the ME before postnatal depression, worked all hours, stressed over all things even those that could not be control and took so much for granted. Why on earth would I want to go back to being her?