Sometimes, those of us who live with depression or anxiety over-pathologize ourselves: we mistakenly attribute normal human emotions, reactions or behaviours to our illness, and this isn’t constructive.
It’s easy to see why we do it. We might be feeling having a low day, and we say something without thinking it through, and we beat ourselves up about it; but anyone can put their foot in their mouth, and lots of people feel awful afterwards – so there’s no need to go that next step and see it as further proof of our mental ill-health.
Or we might be feeling super-anxious about, say, giving a speech, and find ourselves feeling panicky. We’ve all heard that old chestnut about how some people fear public speaking more than dying – and yet instead of ‘merely’ feeling panicky, this almost-everyday event can turn into evidence that we’re labelled with a disorder, that there’s something wrong with us. Again, we’re causing ourselves unnecessary extra distress.
Don’t get me wrong, our feelings in these situations are valid (all feelings are valid); but what I’m saying is that we don’t need to keep using ordinary events to remind ourselves that we’re depressed, we’re anxious, we’re different from the rest of the populations. We simply don’t need to keep to keep banging our head up against that label. Sometimes a gaffe is just a gaffe, a fear is simply a possibly well-founded fear – both unpleasant, but both usual life events.
So my challenge to you today is to try and de-pathologize your self-talk for the next 24 hours. If you’re depressed or anxious (or even if you’re not!) examine anything which triggers destructive self-talk, and ask: is this something a “normal” person might realistically experience? Is my reaction really so far outside the range of “normal”? (Sorry for using the word “normal” here – I want you to interpret it as a non-judgmental shortcut for … well, you know what I mean.)*
I hope that this might become an exercise in self-compassion and kindness.
* Gavin – you can laugh now!