"Wow...you really hate yourself!"
“Wow, you really hate yourself…well…maybe you don’t hate yourself, but you sure talk to yourself like you do”.
And *bam* those were the words that my husband spoke to me that knocked me on my a**.
I had worked so hard to cultivate emotional regulation skills, which meant listening to my body and caring for my needs as they arose. If I was burnt out, I’d let myself rest, set boundaries and communicate my needs. If I was worked up, I'd make sure I had time to exert some energy or find a trusted friend to talk to. I journal (a lot) every single day, get my “zone minutes” and “steps” daily, ensure I get adequate sleep, typically avoid screens 1-2 hours before bedtime, cultivate and maintain healthy relationships, work at creating meaningful work in my career and have healthy relationships with my husband and children.
But this summer has been difficult. I mean, the last few years have been difficult, if I’m being honest, but I can mostly move through the challenges by focusing on the tremendous amount of work on my plate. This summer was different. I had tied up and set aside some big projects at the end of June and I had planned to spend my summer on our developing homestead (cabinstead?) in Minnesota. My husband and I are nearing the end of the immigration process for him to become a permanent resident of Canada, but before that can happen, he has some jobs and work to finish up here.
The plan was for me to “be around” and finally be able to go to sleep next to one another more often than not. I would maintain the home (keep it clean, get the laundry done, make a meal or two), tackle projects here and there, take the lead in parenting, lend a hand when my husband needed it, and work on my curriculum design and programming. At first I was excited for the country air, family time, and coveted alone time I was about to enjoy. I was going to get deep into my creative writing, get inspired and reconnect with myself! But as the weeks wore on and much of my time was spent in isolation, I found myself falling into a depression and questioning my worth and value.
I started to come down on myself whenever I didn’t have the energy or stamina to have a meal ready, or the house wasn’t clean enough. I felt ashamed that my business did not earn enough to “pull my weight” (as if finances are the only way to contribute to a family and marriage) and questioned if I was a burden to my loved ones…and then the spiral began…how could someone love me if I’m a burden? If I’m not being excellent at everything I said I would, then I’m failing, I’m not holding up my end of the bargain! And once I was deep in the waters of depression, then came the “no one can love you being the mess that you are” “how could you possibly believe that you had anything worthwhile to offer as a business or even as a wife?” “No one cares to listen to you anyways!”
“You talk to yourself like you hate yourself!”
Ouch…it was true. I hated feeling the way I felt. Those well worn pathways in my brain somehow still seemed to revert to trying to kick myself into gear by shaming and guilting myself out of a funk...spoiler alert…it doesn’t work. While most of the time I’m acutely aware of my cognitive distortions at play, if I’m not vigilant they can resurface and undermine me. I have an A+ in catastrophizing.
To paraphrase Dr. Kristen Neff, the developer of Mindful Self-Compassion, there are two kinds of self-compassion. Fierce self-compassion - think of a mama bear protecting her cubs - except you yourself are the cub. People who are able to administer fierce self-compassion set boundaries. It sounds something like “thanks for thinking of me, but I need to stay home and rest tonight” or “I understand you are struggling, but I don’t have the time or emotional space to meet your needs right now” or even telling myself “get off your phone and get moving, you’ll feel better”. It’s taken me a lot of practice (I would still consider myself a recovering people pleaser), but I've gotten significantly better at administering fierce self-compassion.
Tender self-compassion on the other hand is a different story. Tender self-compassion requires holding and tending to yourself in the ways that you might a small child who is injured or upset. Using touch (a hand on the heart) and speaking soothing words to yourself. Sometimes I’m great at this. Often I tend to resort to trying to problem solve or convince myself that things are okay, rather than just being with the experience. Soften, Soothe, Allow. Tender self-compassion is the antidote to self-criticism and it’s a practice that I’m still cultivating.
Times are still challenging. I have no clearer answers to the questions and uncertainties that were driving my anxiety before I fell into depression than I do now. Patience and self-compassion are key to navigating these challenging times and I’m learning to wait and see what unfolds. Until this storm passes, I will commit to spending each day in as meaningful a manner as possible, set daily attainable goals that will set me in the right direction, and practice sitting with myself as a true friend would and nurture myself instead of abandoning myself in my time of need.
Today I didn’t say one unkind word to myself. Today I talked to myself like I love myself. That is success. That is improvement. That is mindfully stepping in the right direction.
While I wouldn’t say I’m on top of the world, I’d say I’m out of the woods, and I’m proud of myself for that.