Depression and Learning to Love Myself

On the surface, this blog post doesn’t have a lot to do with pregnancy or parenting–but beneath its roots, a deep-seated fear about my parenting rests, as well as hope and ambition for my future.

I have depression and anxiety. I suffer from both and have for… well, pretty much as long as I can remember. Some days, it was a smiling depression. Other days, my depression was right there on the surface for everyone to see. Currently, I’m treating my depression, working on learning new coping skills and coming to peace with myself, and beginning to take ownership of the depression–both the aspects that are in my control and the aspects that are not. But it hasn’t always been that way. The journey to learning to love myself has been a long one, and the progress not always linear. Let’s talk about the journey and what it has to do with parenting–and then, let’s challenge ourselves to move out of our comfort zone.

My Depression Journey & Seeking Treatment

My depression has always been there–or at least it feels like it has been–an aching presence that makes it hard to get off the couch or go hang out with friends. My parents saw early signs of it and would encourage me to do things that made me feel better, whether that was my mom signing me up for clubs and activities or my dad sending me outside to get fresh air.

During childhood, that helped. It was enough for me to stay even-keel…ish. And then I went to college.

There were many things I loved about college, from the picturesque location of the school I chose to the friendships I made, but college was also hard. Separated from my family for months at a time–separated from the people who had once forced me to do the things that made me feel healthy–I soon fell apart.

Nightmares
A meme I made during college. Demons chasing you in your sleep? Totally normal.

Worse, I was in denial. Sure, I was self-injuring–but only a little–not enough to be dangerous–so that was fine, right? Sure, my room was disintegrating into chaos around me–dirty dishes piled on the floor, laundry in a stack halfway to the ceiling–but it was college, and lots of kids had messy rooms… so, again, fine, right?

I never missed class, rarely forgot assignments, and even graduated summa cum laude. I worked–as many as three jobs at a time–and my bosses always had good things to say about me during performance reviews. That wasn’t the face of depression… right?

It was the Nutella the finally spurred me into treatment.

On days I had classes, or work, I would manage to get myself out the door and where I needed to be, but during spans of time where I had no real responsibilities–no one to hold me accountable to my location–, I couldn’t bring myself to leave my room. I could barely bring myself to leave my bed. Even hunger couldn’t spur me to move far–not when the campus cafeteria had people in it, and I knew the energy that went into “faking it” around people. So instead, when I would get hungry, I would eat Nutella–from the jar, with a spoon, on nothing. Looking back, gross, but at the time it was a food that filled me up that took zero energy to prepare.

And then one day I woke up with a splitting headache. I could barely move, not from depression but from sheer pain. When hunger hit, I reached for the jar of Nutella on the floor by my bed, took a single spoonful, and put it to my tongue.

Finals Week

The headache dissipated instantly, and something in my brain clicked at that moment–something that, for whatever reason, hadn’t clicked with any of my previous symptoms. I had an oh, shit moment, realizing that I had been taking so little care of my body for so long that I’d actually become addicted to Nutella.

The next day, I set up an appointment with the mental health clinic on campus.

During my first round of therapy, my concentration wasn’t on feeling good or learning to love myself. It didn’t even cross my mind that feeling good was a possibility. I just wanted to learn some skills to stop actively hurting myself–some skills so I could learn to function at a basic human level. And I got there. I cut back on the twelve caffeinated beverages I was drinking a day, banned Nutella from my life (sorry, Nutella, it’s not your fault), and practiced coping skills–like hiking in the woods and reaching out to friends and family–which got me to stop self-injuring.

Then I graduated, therapy was no longer free, and I stopped going.

Parenting & Re-Visiting My Depression

I did promise at the beginning of this diatribe that it had something to do with parenting, and it does.

When Ginger Snaps and I got together, we vowed–even before our official vows–to be 100% honest with one another. It’s one of the things we’re pretty decent at sticking to. So he’s known, since the beginning, about my struggles with depression. He helps me maintain the healthy habits–like limiting my caffeine intake and going on walks around the neighborhood–that keep me from sinking into the sort of soul-wrenching depression that I suffered in college. When he and I met, I was a closet smoker–a “social smoker,” which–like the laundry on the floor in college–I perceived as “no big deal.” Within two months of our being together, he’d helped me kick that unhealthy habit as well. (Let’s be real–the fact that he doesn’t enjoy the settings, like pubs and parties, where I used to smoke was a help in and of itself).

When we were first together, I thought that was the best life would ever get–depression present but vices mitigated. Then we started talking about bringing children into the world–something that had always been a dream of mine, and a dream that he fortunately shared. But when it came time to actually try for a child, fear knotted its way into my stomach. I visited my doctor to discuss prenatal care, and as we were talking, I twisted the hem of my shirt and said to her, “I really, really want to be a mom… But I don’t want to be the mom that cries all the time.”

We talked a while longer, and she pulled up some of my old charts, and then, for the first time ever, I was prescribed an antidepressant.

Antidepressants aren’t for everyone. They don’t even work for everyone. But for me, they were gold. The fog that had pressed down on me from all angles lifted, my anxiety abated, and GS and I finally recognized the sacrifices we had made over the years to keep my depression at bay. Suddenly, he wasn’t the only one who could go grocery shopping because I could walk past the sweets in the store without buying all of them or–worse–breaking down in tears on the drive home. He wasn’t the only one doing chores anymore–I was happy, even energized, to keep the house clean.

Happiness
Our wedding day. Pretty much the happiest I’ve ever been.

We had a few sweet, blissful months, and then I got pregnant.

The antidepressant I was on was safe to take while pregnant–one of the criteria when my PCP and I chose it for me–so I hadn’t considered coming off of it during pregnancy. But for the first sixteen weeks of pregnancy I was so sick I couldn’t keep food down half the time, and the medicine stood zero chance: Just attempting to swallow it had me losing everything in my system.

As my medicine left my system, the anxiety and depression returned, only now, there was something worse about it. GS, suddenly used to having a partner rather than a parasite in the home, grew frustrated when I stopped helping around the house. My tears became more plentiful, and not just because of the hormones raging through my body. And for me, after a taste of what happiness and energy felt like, “coping” didn’t cut it anymore.

Therapy, Take 2

GS and I made a decision, together, that something had to give. In lieu of medicine, I went back to therapy, this time with a new therapist. Recommended by my doctor, this was a “biochemical therapist,” which meant that her concentration wasn’t on investigating trauma in my life (there isn’t any) or discussing the ways my parents screwed me up (they didn’t–they’re great). Rather, the focus was on explaining how the brain works in conjunction with the body and then on working together to rewire the parts of the brain that, for me, were hyper-focused on the negative.

For me, it’s working. It’s not as easy as taking a pill was, but I also don’t have to worry that it will wear off over time or that I’ll have to keep upping my doses. In fact, this week my therapist and I celebrated the fact that I’ve had four sessions in a row where I could report having had a generally good week.

Things aren’t perfect yet. I help out around the house, but GS still does more than his fair share of housework. I can go grocery shopping now–and never cry about it–but sometimes we end up with chips in the cupboard that we don’t need. Because “good enough” doesn’t cut it for me anymore, I recognize that there’s still work to be done to ensure that I can be the mother my little girl needs and the wife my husband deserves. But I also recognize progress, both in the tangibles, like picking water up from the grocery store for my husband and not getting sidetracked into the snack aisle, and the intangibles, like the easy banter between GS and I now that he no longer has to fear that everything he says will send me into tears.

A Safe Challenge… for All of Us

My therapist and I are at a stage now where I’ve learned some good coping skills, and now I’m practicing them through a series of “safe challenges.” It’s been empowering to use my mindfulness training to clean the bathroom and my new understanding of hyperarousal versus hypoarousal to prioritize my tasks at work. But for the past couple of weeks, she’s been suggesting a safe challenge that so terrifies me that I dodge around it and ask for other challenges instead.

The challenge? “Love yourself.”

Love Yourself

I’m not actually sure what the challenge entails. Once again, this week I managed to plea a lesser sentence (meditation). But as I was reviewing some of the work I did on my Gender Disappointment post, I came up with my own idea of what a “Love Yourself” safe challenge might entail. I meditated on it. And now I want to propose that challenge to each of you.

Here’s what I want you to do. Write a list, without giving in to personal critique or judgment, of everything you love about yourself–of all the ways being you is a blessing. If you’re feeling really brave, you can even post it in the comments to help others who might be struggling with this challenge to give themselves an opportunity to be a little less-than-modest for once.

Regardless of whether you choose to share or not, I encourage you to write the list and keep it in your wallet. As you struggle with your doubts and self-critiques this week–whether it be looking at that sweater that doesn’t fit quite right or cleaning spaghetti off your wall for the third time–pull your list out and take a moment to reflect on the things you love about yourself instead of your personal challenges. Reflect on the positivity, and then report back. Does it help?

I Made My List

In fairness to what I’m asking you to do, I created my own list. And I’ll be real: It was hard. For every line I came up with of a reason to love myself, I could think of three addendums–ways those positive traits could be seen as a weakness, or had worked against me in the past, or were true some of the time but not all of the time. Writing them down made me feel tense, like I was being overly cocky or full of myself.

I realized that it would be ten times easier to write a list of reasons I judge myself or ways that I could improve myself. And as I realized that–and how sad that is–I also realized how much I need this in my life.

Self-criticism has its place in our lives. If I don’t acknowledge that I have a weight problem, I won’t recognize my need to get off the couch and exercise. But when self-criticism becomes the norm, we begin to underestimate ourselves and become paralyzed by the notion that we’re not good enough, strong enough, smart enough, or capable enough.

So I implore you–because it was hard for me–to only write down the things you love about yourself. You won’t forget the addendums–the “except for in these circumstances”–but those thoughts don’t need space in your positivity journal.

Need an example? My list is below. Are you brave enough to make one of your own?

  • I love that I write well, with a solid understanding of grammar and punctuation and a good voice.
    • I also love that I enjoy writing and that I have that available to me as a creative outlet.
  • I love my sense of humor.
  • I love how honest I am with people.
  • I love that I have the capability of being self-reflexive.
  • I love that I actively seek out knowledge on a regular basis.
  • I love how easy it is for me to memorize songs, the fact that I can keep a rhythm, and the fact that I’m not afraid to sing along to the radio.
  • I love my vocabulary. I love the taste of long words on my tongue, and sometimes, I also love a little vulgarity in my language.
  • I love that I’m not a picky eater and that I’m not afraid to try new foods.
  • I love that I still enjoy cartoons and still find the magic in Disney.
  • I love the fact that I’m close to my family, and that I consider so much of my family to be dear friends.
  • I love the fact that I always fight for the underdog.
  • I love the fact that the novelty and genius to music don’t pass me by.
  • I love the fact that I enjoy organizing things on the computer, from our family finances to class schedules for my characters to… well, so many things.
  • I love the fact that I hold myself to high standards.
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8 comments

  1. Hello Cait. Thank you for sharing this post with us. I appreciate how honest and real you are in this post. You are not alone in this feeling, many people around the globe feel the same. I am glad that the internet and this online space called WordPress can be used as a platform where everybody can meet, share stories and ultimately have a better prospect at finding healing.

    If you do not mind, I would like to put a spiritual twist on things. Cait, I do not know whether you believe in God or not, but God already prepared for this moment, he already prepared for this time and his words in the bible addressees this issue. The bible says in Jeremiah 17:9
    ““The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
    and desperately wicked.
    Who really knows how bad it is?”

    The human heart is wicked to others, and it is also wicked to itself. Our minds like to taunt us sometimes. Self-criticism is not far-fetched and our minds uses it to pull us down when we let it. We need to know that our minds are wicked, and sometimes, it is okay to not listen to it.

    Who do we then listen to? We need to listen to God. In the presence of God, we do not need to be the prettiest, the smartest, or the best, to be relevant, all we need to do is to believe in him and to obey him. This is particularly important because God is the creator of all things. We need to strive to be important in the presence of the most important person, which is God.

    When we follow God, he confers a new identity on us, concerning God’s people, 1 Peter 2:9 says
    “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, to proclaim the virtues of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light”.

    God does not just stop there, he says in Jeremiah 29:11
    ” For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.

    God would show you your true value. He would show you where your hidden virtues lie. He would love you back to life.

    If you do not have a relationship with God, I suggest that you begin one today. Here are my suggestions on how to build a relationship with God:

    1. Confession of faith: you need to find a quiet space. Imagine that Jesus is in front of you. Ask him for forgiveness of your past sins and the sins of your ancestors. Ask him to give you the strength to forgive those who have offended you. Honestly, I suggest that you forgive the people who have offended you, because whatever they did to you is now in the past, and upon a confession of Jesus as your Lord, you become a new creation. In addition, God commands that we need to forgive others, before he can forgive us. You can also get a deliverance before your confession of faith. Deliverance will rid you off any ungodly spirits that have taken residence in your body and mind. A pastor with a deliverance anointing should be able to help with this. There are also videos on YouTube, where pastors with a deliverance anointing pray directly for people through the videos. You just need to search “deliverance prayer” in the search bar to reach these videos. Now, you need to tell Jesus that you want him to come and be your lord and personal savior, and surrender to him. You need to know that Jesus died for you. He died on the cross so that you may have a chance at salvation. The minute you give your life to Jesus, you need to know that you can no longer live as you wish, you shall live according to the stipulations in the bible. Believe in your heart that Jesus was risen up from the dead by God, and confess with your mouth that he is the messiah and your personal savior.

    2. Prayers: ask Jesus to bless you with eternal life. Tell him to make a place for you in his heavenly abode. You need to understand that praying for heaven is the best prayer that you can ever pray. Life on earth is so short, you need to be worried about eternal life, which is so much longer. God knows that you need clothes, food, shelter etc. He is your creator and he knows your every need. The bible tells us to pray for eternal life and God would provide our other needs (i.e. clothes, shelter etc.) according to his riches. If there is something bothering you, tell God in prayer, commit it to him and ask him to do it for you. However, bear in mind that this life is temporary and so are the things in this life. When you are praying, the devil will try to disrupt your prayers by bringing sudden disturbances and evil thoughts. An example of an evil thought that the devil tries to use to stop people from praying is by bringing the thought that Jesus is not present and that they are simply wasting their time. Jesus is there with you when you pray. So pray like you mean it. Pray the same way you will if Jesus was right in front of you because he is. You need to understand how prayers work as well. You see, when you pray, God answers prayers. God usually has three answers to prayers Yes, Yes but Wait, and No. God has a reason for every answer that he gives. He loves you and he will make sure that everything works out well for you in the end. When you get a No from God, sometimes it is not because that thing is not good for you at that point in time, but it may be because God is trying to draw your attention to something that you are doing wrong in your life. When you get a No from God, you need to evaluate yourself, what is the motive of your prayer? is it pure? Is it Godly? Is there an area of sin in your life that you need to work on? When you reflect on these things and you find something in yourself lacking, try to fix it. When God says Yes to prayers and sends you his blessings, trust me, there are spiritual forces of the devil in high places that work against people so that their blessings from God would not reach them. You need to pray against these spiritual forces. Rebuke them by the power and the name of Jesus. This way, your blessings would be able to reach you. Lastly, some people pray lazy prayers. For example, someone might pray for a job, without actually applying to any. God does not reward laziness. When you are praying for something, you need to be putting some work in as well. God rewards hard-work and we ought to strive to be hardworking. God’s role is to direct, bless, and make your path clear. However, bear in mind that sometimes God answers even lazy prayers and gives us undeserved blessings, that shows you the power of his love. He would always be with you. You need to make sure that you are close to God in prayer. Do not cease to tell him about what you are struggling with. If you are struggling with sins of the flesh that you believe are hindering your spiritual growth, you need to make sure that you tell God. Make sure that you pray for an increment in faith. Faith is important, you need to have faith in God. When we pray, we need to have faith, God does not like it when we doubt his ability to provide us with what we want, he is mighty and nothing is impossible with him. When you are low in faith, pray to God for an increment in faith. Remember to pray for your family, your city, your country and the world in fact, no prayers are too big for God. Pray that unsaved people would be saved. Pray for your non-Christian family members, pray that they see the light and become saved. When you pray, make sure that you take care of sins. The bible says that we need to forgive others if we want our sins to be forgiven. Make sure you forgive others, ask for forgiveness of your sins first before praying. Sins can block your prayers from getting to God. Try to avoid sin, but pray for forgiveness of sins everyday, because sometimes, we are not aware of the sins that we are committing. When you get answers to your prayers, remember to thank God.

    3. The Bible: You need to make sure that you are reading the bible and that you are obeying it. I suggest you begin with the New Testament because the coming of Jesus changed many of the things that were practised before. However, bear in mind that the old testament is also important. You can find free bible apps on google play. You can also find free bibles online. The New Living Translation is an easy to read bible version. However, the most popular one is the King James Version.

    4. Hearing from God: Trust me, God would speak to you. He would speak to you through dreams. Through people, through situations, through the bible and so much more. You need to practice and perfect the art of hearing God’s voice. Dreams contain a lot of symbolism. When you possess an avid knowledge of what the bible says, you would understand the biblical meaning of all the symbols in your dreams. However, for now, you can search online bible dream dictionaries for the meaning of things you see in your dream. You also need to know that although there are general meanings for some symbols, some interpretations are based on context. Take context into account. God does communicate via dreams. Sometimes, you might be asking God for direction on something. Pay attention to the words all around you during this time i.e, the things people say, words you see when reading the bible etc. Sometimes you might even just turn on your TV and the TV anchor would say something that directly relates to what you are going through. Pay attention to these things. You would know it is God’s voice when whatever is said is not in contradiction to the bible and God’s nature. If it is in contradiction then it might just be something random that popped up. As you practise the art of listening and hearing, God might give you the gift of seeing visions or the gift of hearing an inner voice, and take you to deeper depths of hearing.

    5. Fasting: fasting is an effective way to get God’s attention. Fasting is a way to spend time with him. You deprive yourself of food because what you seek for is more than food. There are different types of fasting, and you need to plan what works for you. There is the:

    A. Avoidance fasting: This is a fasting form where you avoid something that you cannot do without i.e. Coffee.

    B. Daniel’s fast: In this sort of fasting, you only eat fruit and vegetables and drink water. You do not eat anything cooked or anything other than fruits and vegetables.

    C. Water fast: In this sort of fasting, you do not eat anything, you only drink water. No food, just water.

    D. Total fast: In this sort of fasting, you do not eat or drink anything. You do not drink even water.

    Make sure that you work out what works for you. You can pray to God for directions on the timing of the fasting to follow. However, as a general time-frame, on fasting days, many Christians fast from 6am to 6pm. Many Christians also use those moments when they feel hungry/ feel cravings as prompts to pray. You need to have increased prayers during fasting periods.

    6. Temptations: When you believe in Jesus. Trust me, the devil sometimes would throw trials and tribulations into your life, the goal of this is to get you to denounce your faith. The goal is to frustrate you. You need to pray and fast when trials and tribulations strike. God would never leave you or forsake you. He would be with you and with God, you will overcome this if it ever happens.

    7. Spreading the gospel: Now that you know the truth, you are chosen. It is now your duty to share the truth in the bible with others. Make sure that you save people from falling prey to Satan’s tactics. You need to join the fight to depopulate the devil’s camp, while populating God’s kingdom. With spreading the gospel, do not feel the need to finish reading the whole bible before you begin. You can teach people the little you know.

    8. Read: There is a lot of material out there. There are ministers of God who have practised for about 40 years. These people have a lot of stories about their ministry. Some of them have the gift to heal others, others see visions, some of them hear God’s voice. Many of these people have written books about how they accomplished what they have accomplished, and how they got their gift. Buy these books and read them. If you do not have money, some of these ministers have shared their stories for free on YouTube, take advantage of that.

    9: Reform yourself: begin to watch Christian movies and listen to Christian music. Make sure that your thoughts, actions, and words are in obedience to the word of God. Make sure that you are not doing anything sinful in your thoughts, actions or words. Refine your world, the space around you, the things you see and hear, make it all about God. You can also join a community of bible believing Christians. However, I need to tell you that there is sectarianism in the religion. Do not pay attention to sectarianism, pay attention to the bible. The bible is your authority. If a church seems to have too much sectarianism issue going on, if they are more focused on promoting their denomination than promoting God and the word in his bible, you need to stop going there. Get a water baptism, and pray so that God would baptise you in the holy spirit.

    (I know I have written this list in the order of 1 to 9. It is crucial that you begin with Step 1. Prayers are something that you need to do constantly, so is bible study, hearing from God and reforming yourself. However, you can start small with fasting and spreading the gospel. You can start by preaching to your family members in the beginning phase of spreading the gospel, but you need to expand on these over time. I know this list seems long and all these seem deep, but trust me, you would blend into it so easily and it would become second nature to you. Pray to God to make all of these easy for you, and he will. The devil would try to trick you into believing that God’s standards are too high and that you would never overcome sin, when in actuality, you can. So therefore, pray to God and believe and he would help you overcome sin).

    If you ever backslide and fall back into sin again while trying to follow God’s word. You need to ask him to forgive you and try to get back on track.

    If you have any questions, feel free to let me know. If you need to talk, I am here for you. God bless you. Have a blessed day 🙂

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog. I don’t discuss my religious views on this blog to much of an extent, nor do I intend to. I will say that I believe the most beneficial teaching in the Bible is “Love thy neighbor,” and I believe that to truly love your neighbor, it’s important to meet your neighbor where they are at, and to neither pass judgment nor presume to know what is in their heart or their soul. I do not believe hurting is any kind of sin, nor is it anything to ask forgiveness for.

      • My dear. Hurting is not a sin. However, there are other sins in our lives that we need to ask forgiveness for. Like for instance, we might envy other people and not wish them well. God does not like that and we need to ask him to forgive us of that. I hope you understand.

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