As many of you may know I struggled with depression for a big part of my teenage years and, although it’s been a long time, thinking about it makes me feel a bit awkward. It feels taboo, as if I shouldn’t talk about it, even though my depression had a big influence on who I am today. Like all big things in life it shaped my personality, my thoughts, my decisions. Most importantly, the process of climbing out of that dark abyss has taught me a lot. One of the most important things I learned was to accept my feelings.
One of the most destructive things you can do to yourself is disallowing yourself to feel bad. When I was younger, I’d feel bad about feeling bad. My thought process would be something like this: “Who am I to feel so horrible all the time? My family is great, I have a few friends, I do fine in school. I may be a bit of an outcast and not very talented at anything, but I don’t have real problems. I shouldn’t feel this way.” By thinking like that, I shoved my feelings aside even though they were unresolved. Instead of talking to someone about my feelings, I acted like nothing was wrong – because nothing should be wrong.
This thought pattern may be familiar to a lot of people. Not necessarily the ‘feeling horrible all the time’-part, but the idea of rationalising feelings about smaller things (such as being sad about receiving negative feedback). We tend to tell ourselves not to be ridiculous or that it isn’t that bad at all, and sometimes that actually helps. We may suddenly notice the positive side to things or perhaps regard the negatives as less important. At other times, it doesn’t. We’ll start over-analysing the situation and end up feeling even worse. Still, we feel like talking about it will make us seem like a weak person who worries about nothing.
The problem with handling our feelings that way is that the feelings won’t actually be dealt with. They’ll just pile up in the back of our minds and sometimes come back when we feel bad already: “This went wrong, and that a month ago, and that last year, and that stupid thing yesterday that I wouldn’t even care about otherwise.” A big load of ‘nonsense’ issues that could’ve been dealt with easily, perhaps simply by talking about it and someone saying that they understand, suddenly all comes up at once. A storm of frustration, sadness, anger, annoyance and stress unleashes and may not leave you alone for a long time after.
The only way to keep yourself from overflowing like that is to deal with your feelings immediately. Instead of pushing the feelings away as ridiculous, try mentioning that the situation makes you feel uncomfortable or talk to someone about it later if you can’t at that moment. Never feel guilty about feeling bad. Never try to invalidate your feelings. Recognising what you feel and why you feel that way is the first step in feeling better again.