I’ve never hidden the fact that I have low self-esteem. Growing up, I always assumed that the other kids wouldn’t like me, so I never put myself out there. I refused to take risks because, in my mind, I had no shot at succeeding and I didn’t want to be let down when I inevitably failed. The idea that I was nothing kept me on the sidelines for the majority of my life and caused me to miss out on so many experiences that I will never be able to get back. Ultimately, my negative perception of myself has been the most difficult hurdle to overcome as I’ve spent years fighting depression.
Not long ago, I had a really bad depressive episode that left me unable to leave my bed. I felt like the tears would never stop flowing. I wanted more than ever for my life to end and didn’t believe that I offered the world enough to have the privilege of being alive. More treatment, more drugs, more socialization, everyone had an opinion on what would make me see more value in my life. My response was always that no matter how great a treatment was, or what skills I picked up, at the end of it all, I would still be me. That was the eternal flaw. Intellectually, I knew that parts of my life would improve as soon as I put in the work, but I could change everything about my life and that wouldn’t solve the core problem. New home, new job, new social situations, it’s all great on the surface, but like the old saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” I was never fully able to get away from the idea that it wasn’t my life that sucked: It was me.
One afternoon, I was crying in my room when my brother walked in and asked what was going on. I told him I was done. Done trying, done being sad, done living. Just done. I tried telling him that it didn’t matter what I tried, because I would always find a way to mess it up. “I’m a worthless piece of shit,” I told him. He looked up at me; both confused and shocked, “Says who?” I had no answer. In reality, I couldn’t remember where I first got the idea that I was nothing; it was just always something I believed about myself. I have always had an inability to see the good in myself, never believing that anything I said or did was worthy of praise or recognition. Just shame. This idea has crippled me since I was a little girl, paralyzing me with fear and self-doubt that has colored every part of my world.
I have spent my whole life using my stubbornness as a crutch, even though it obviously wasn’t doing me any favors and has held me back more times than I can count. My brother challenged me to turn it into a gift, to refuse to let my depression win, to use my strength to change my story. This conversation became my “Aha” moment.
I began to wonder how my brain has allowed itself to take any morsel of negativity I’ve experienced in my life and spin it into an entire identity of self-loathing and worthlessness. In reality, there is so much evidence that these beliefs I’ve held about myself for so long are simply lies my brain is perpetuating. I have only ever been able to see the worst in myself, but that day, I made the decision to allow the belief others had in me to carry me through when I clearly was unable to hold myself up.
Looking at myself through the kinder lens of someone who loves me has been paramount in the healing of my soul. I’ve begun to see that although I am filled with flaws, they don’t erase all of the good that I have to offer. I’ve given myself permission to take pride in the person I’ve become and challenged myself to look to a brighter future. It wasn’t long ago that I believed I wouldn’t get a future at all. I think the greatest lesson I’ve learned is to not believe every thought that I have about myself. It’s OK to challenge those thoughts, and, when they’re particularly harsh, to be critical. I will have to spend the rest of my life managing my depression, but that doesn’t mean it will control me. The most important part in recovery is taking the power back and allowing yourself to believe you deserve to win.