I can be cruel to myself, sometimes immeasurably so. My internal critic will ramp up, particularly when I’m “low on spoons” at the end of the day. 11:30pm is a perfect storm time for me, and always has been. My mom and I joke, and say that it’s my Pumpkin Time.
I’ll say the worst things to myself, things that I would never say to a friend or family member. I disparage myself on how I’ve handled conflicts, what my future will hold, how I treat the people around me, how I dress, what I spend my time doing, and how I deal with my feelings. These comments will be full of absolutes and directives: I’m never going to get better, I should be able to handle this, I’m always a whiny bitch, I’m supposed to be making a difference, clearly nothing I do helps, something is always wrong with me, I’ll be depressed forever, I should be pleasant for a whole day, everyone would be better off without me. Seeing these thoughts written down in black and white reveals how distorted and patently not true they are, but when I’m in a negative feedback loop my brain is utterly convinced of their truth. Of course I’m terrible. And then that thought bends into itself like a moebius strip from hell, because I shouldn’t be saying this things about myself, so of course I’m terrible because I should know better!
I’m pretty sure that managing these feelings, thoughts and experiences will be with me for most of my life. That’s the nature of depression, and it probably won’t go away 100%. It’s a part of who I am. But I can manage the thoughts better and better, build a stronger foundation, and decrease the amount of self criticism I pile on. The best way to manage, according to common sense (and my therapist!) is to be kind to myself. But what does “being kind to myself” actually look like? It feels as if I’ve been told to be kind to myself almost my whole life. “You’re so hard on yourself“, “Cherish yourself” , “You should be nicer to you“. There’s that should again! ‘Being kind to yourself’ can be a buzzword that lose its meaning after a while. So what are the concrete actions behind self-kindness?
To answer these questions, I think of what ‘being kind’ to a friend looks like. Because while I’m not very good at being a friend to myself, I am certainly a friend to other people around me that I love. And being a friend to someone else means:
- Responding to harsh self talk with quiet, diplomatic, and loving truths
- Taking them to fun places and events that I know they’ll enjoy
- Cooking them food
- Asking them ‘how can I help?’
- Encouraging them to pursue activities that they love
- Helping them to deepen relationships with people who support them
- Simply sitting with them and witnessing when things are tough
- Providing gentle advice where it seems appropriate
- Sharing hugs and laughter during pain
- Giving them reminders of how I care for them and appreciate them
Writing these actions is an eye-opener, because I do so little of this for myself. I say that not as a finger wagging critique, but as a realization of ‘wow, look at all the ways I can grow’. Additionally, I’m struck by the loving kindness of the verbs I used. There’s no absolutes, no supposed to’s, just acceptance and gentle challenges. I can be a very cerebral person, and these concrete examples will help to change my behavior as it happens, or allow me to address the behavior immediately afterwards. I should be my own best friend, because of all the people in the world, I’m the only one that will always be there. So my friends, today is Thursday June 5th, and I commit to being kind to myself.