I am still learning about self-care and self-love. I mean, I know what those things mean, and I’m getting better and being kind to myself in all of my moods and modes. BUT… I am not very nice to myself when I start assessing where I am in life, where I am in my progress towards world dominations, and where I am in terms of my love life. I’m not very good at managing those things in my adult life.
Let’s start with how well we take care of ourselves. I was talking to a friend today about their routine and why I thought they might want to consider enhancing their diet along with doing a tiny bit of exercise, regardless of how they felt about doing either of those things. “I don’t cook,” he said. “Well, my friend, you cannot live or be happy eating microwave dinners, even from Whole Foods.”
“I know,” he said, “But I don’t like vegetables.”
“Same,” I replied. “Except, vegetables are not optional. They are a must-have. And vitamins and smoothies, and green supplements aren’t going to hack it in our modern stress-filled world. We need to learn to take chare of our food intake. We need to eat more vegetables and less meat, and zero saturated fats and zero empty carbs. We’ve got to take charge of the things we can. And, while cooking is not natural to me, it is actually pretty simple to get under control.
I personally used Hello Fresh (here’s my referral code) to have fresh meals and the recipes dropped on my doorstep each week. A couple of problems with this entire “subscription” model, the vegetables made up about 8% of my meal, and if I waited too long the zucchini would be soft. That said, you have got to get your food under control. However you want to do it, learn to cook. Eat at Whole Foods or Central Market if you have the money. But stop eating junk, fast food, and snacks.
Self-Love vs. Anxiety
Here’s my painful underbelly. I am super hard on myself when I’m not functioning at an ultra-high level. To the point, where I’m unhappy if I’m just having an average day. Well, friends, this level of self-imposed performance is exhausting and UNSUSTAINABLE. I cannot stay UP for weeks and months at a time. No one can. That’s why we have cycles, circadian rhythms, and night and day. So we can cycle with our natural rhythms. But, for me, when I’m not cooking on all burners and burning the midnight oil, I must be depressed.
I know that sounds odd to most of you. But when I’m not high on life, I’m actually pretty down on myself for being a failure, for being less than 110%. This is silly. This is my own form of self-abuse. And as I’ve been learning over the last 9 months, this is not how it has to be. In fact, it’s my wrong-headed thinking about my “current state of mind” that is 50% of my suffering.
Let me explain.
What Depression Looks Like to Most People
We have seen or felt depression in our lives. The media portrays the struggling artist, the depressive creative, the highly-sensitive type, and we’re all familiar with the stereotypes.
- Can’t get out of bed in the morning
- No desire for anything (ice cream, sex, laughter, companionship)
- Always looking for more sleep, more time in bed, more isolation in our room, by ourselves, alone, in a cave-like stupor
- Hopeless about the prospects of the future
- Lack of energy that no amount of coffee or stimulants can remedy
What My Last “Depression” Looked Like to the People Around Me
- He’s getting up and going to all of his appointments, meetings, and obligations
- He’s going to work and doing his job
- He’s not feeling creative, but he’s still able to complete several “creative” jobs
- He’s exercising every day
- He is working on getting enough sleep, enough fresh water, and enough healthy food
- He is praying and writing gratitude lists as part of a daily practice
- He is going to Al-anon meetings and reaching out to friends and colleagues
- He is even going out on some first dates when he feels like a failure
Most of the negative thoughts in my “depressions” are my own self-criticism. Most of my core distress comes from what I’m telling myself, not what I’m doing or not doing in my life. But I don’t see it that way when I’m IN the depression. When I am not at a hyper-performing level in my life, I feel “less than.” I feel like I’m missing out.
The Truth About My Depression
I don’t really have full-blown depressions in the classic sense of depression. I haven’t been clinically depressed since I was a teenager. And I have learned to adapt and cover up when I’m not revved up and roaring. But, as good as I think I am, I cannot hide when I’m in a down space. I am so UP most of the time in my life, that when I’m NOT UP it is a palpable change. People ask me, “Are you okay? Did something happen?”
Last summer the answer was, “Yes, a couple of terrible things happened. My brother died. And my girlfriend ran away because she was anxious.” A few months ago, I would’ve told you I was depressed. But when I reviewed this “depression” with my counselor, she said, “Do you really think that was depressed?”
“No,” I said. “Not a bad depression.”
“I’d say you were highly functional, and just not happy about being below 90% of your expectations of your full-power and full-energy.”
Most of My Suffering Is In My Head
It is now more clear than ever to me, that I have a self-love problem. I don’t love myself when I’m down. Even a slight down, a mere dip in my energy level and productivity triggers hopelessness in me that begins to point fingers, lay blame, and say shaming things to myself. “You’re not doing well. You really need to wake up and get your shit together.”
The fact is, I have my shit together. I have worked on getting my mental health together for over 35 years. And I’ve not had one slip since I was 17 years old.
How Am I Doing?
But I think I’m OFF when I’m not bouncing off the satellites. What I know today is that I’m not OFF I’m just not 110% ON. What I need to continue to coach myself on is: I can be happy at 70% productivity, if I allow myself to be okay with less-than-rock-star-status. It’s hard for me. I don’t feel myself when I’m not burning the candle at both ends. And, I’m prone to exhausting myself and those around me when I’m not paying attention to my energy, output, and mental acuity.
Here’s what I’m doing today.
- Eating healthy
- Getting plenty of sleep and fresh water
- Cutting back on alcohol and sugar
- Getting a walk in every single day
- Taking time to meditate, pray, and give thanks for what I have
- Connecting my my two kids, my mom, or my friends, every day
- Going to an al-anon meeting if I’m feeling lonely
When I feel myself getting down about something I ask myself, “Is that true?”
Often the answer is, “Nope, I’m making shit up again. And I’m feeling sorry about it.”
95% of mental health is mental. My thoughts determine if I’m happy or unhappy, most of the time. Yes, I have some chemical changes that can take place as a result of my DNA and historical mental health, but 100% of my effort and energy is up to me and me alone.
Your meds are not going to heal you. Your girlfriend, mom, brother, kids, therapist, are not going to save you. You are the only one who can help you.
Take action. Maintain focus on your goals, objectives, and steps towards accomplishing what you want.
And finally, give yourself a break. Go easy on yourself when you’re not at your best. A lot of people are not at their best today. A lot of people never reach 110% velocity. Give thanks that you can get so high on life, and chill out when you fall below the uber-winning beast mode that makes you feel so excited. A lot of life is mundane and boring. Live it all at full-awareness and self-loving kindness.
- You Are Loved: A Meditation on Self-love and Self-awareness
- Even the High Is Exhausting: A Mindful Pause
- If You’re Happy and You Know It: Our Spiritual Connection w/ Each Other
- Get It Done When You’re Depressed
- An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness
- Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness
- Listening to Prozac: The Landmark Book About Antidepressants and the Remaking of the Self
- Against Depression
- How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me: One Person’s Guide to Suicide Prevention
You can find all of my books on AMAZON.