Most of us have nearly constant internal chatter going through our brains. We also tend to identify with that chatter as being us, our voice, and in many cases, our guide. If we’re honest though, that voice is often at its strongest at night and it churns through bad memories, stressful things we’re facing, and things we aren’t proud of about ourselves.
I never thought about that voice being separate from me; it was me, my identity,and I embraced every word I said to myself. But when I was trying to get a handle on my depression and anxiety, I read Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth and it totally changed the way I viewed my own internal chatter.
During this process, I was sharing what I’d learned with a friend and I admitted to her some of the things I realized I would say to myself when I was in an episode of anxiety or depression:
- “No one would care if I died.”
- “I will never find someone who truly loves me.”
- “I’m not good at my job.”
- “I don’t have any friends because I’m a horrible friend.”
- “I’ll always be fat.”
There was a bit of silence on the other end of the phone after I told her this and then she finally said, “April, that voice in your head is a bitch! Stop listening to that shit.”
It took me a while to see that she was right. We are told so often to follow our inner voice, but there is a part of that chatter that tries to sabotage us. If a friend said to me, “April, I don’t think anyone would care if I died,” I would honestly say to that friend, “That’s not true! I would care.” If a friend said to me, “I’ll always be fat,” I would honestly say, “That’s not true. If you want to get in better shape, let’s come up with a plan.”
To counteract that negative inner voice, you need to first recognize that its happening. I started to do the tough work of separating the guide from the saboteur. This was really difficult at first but as I continued to be aware of what I was saying to myself, it became easier and easier to shut down the negativity and replace it with support. I had to become my own best friend.
The first thing I did, which I still do when it pops up, is to recognize when I start feeling badly about myself. If I can see that I’m starting to criticize my body or my life in a way that’s hurtful to me, I kind of take a step back and literally say to myself, “That’s not true.” Here’s how the internal dialogue goes:
Inner voice: “No one loves you, April.”
Me: “That’s not true.” *Think of one person who does love you, like
a parent, relative, or someone who has been in your life for a long time.
Inner voice: “No one would miss you if you died.”
Me: “That’s not true.” *Think of at least one person who you know
would truly miss you if you weren’t around. There is always at least
one person who would be saddened by your passing. Be open to
the idea that it is true and you will think of at least one person.
Inner voice: “You suck at your job.”
Me: “That’s not true.” *If you’re struggling at work, think of ways that
you can improve rather than the things you may not have done well.
Write these things down and try to do at least one the next day.
This is the work, folks, and it isn’t easy but I haven’t fallen into the pit of depression now in several years and I am also able to keep a lid on my anxiety – it comes up and I am able to keep it to a minimum until I’m able to get it to go away. I just decided that I couldn’t keep spiraling into depression. I couldn’t stay on the edge of anxiety anymore, living on pin and needles, feeling like life was just happening to me. I had to find a way to take control. Recognizing the horrible stuff I said to myself and replacing it with words of support is what has continually worked for me.
I am convinced that unless you are truly sick of yourself and exhausted by the way you let yourself feel, you’ll never do the hard work it takes to make lasting change. You have to recognize that only you are able to stop the cycle of anxiety and depression. It’s happening in your head and because you are part of the problem, you are also part of the solution! There is so much power in that realization.
But once you recognize this and start to counter each negative with support instead, each step toward positive mental health feels like taking a clear breath for the first time. You are slowly peeling away the years of bullshit you’ve built up around you and uncovering who you really are underneath. Trust me, you are beautiful, you are loving, and you are worthy of love and belonging. Don’t listen to anyone who says otherwise, especially that voice in your own head