The First Step After Depression Kept Me From Writing for 2 Months
I’m a writer. I blog on Medium. Today, I opened a new draft to write this story. The last time I did this was two months ago. Yet I know that to be a good, successful writer, I should do this more often.
So, what the hell happened?
I’ll tell you: Seasonal Affective Disorder happened. Bipolar Depression happened. Mental illness that impaired my ability to work, happened.
And it’s been awful.
Don’t get me wrong — I did some good things the past few months. I’ve exercised, looked after my physical and mental health, celebrated the holidays with my family . . . but I barely worked. And I didn’t write.
But, I’m back at it today. So, how’d I get here?
Self-Forgiveness is the Key
The first thing I did was forgive myself for taking time off. You may be thinking, “What’s to forgive, Amy? You were suffering! It’s not your fault!”
But for this recovering perfectionist, I feel like I need to be forgiven. I feel like I let myself down. I’m ambitious and creative; I’m a writer who wants to help people and create success for myself and others with my craft. And I haven’t been doing that lately.
Instead, I’ve been sleeping a lot, during the day. (That’s a telltale sign of depression for me.)
I knew I was depressed, and I did my best to get through it. And you know what? I did get through it, thankfully. I’m still here. And I’m really happy about that. I get to live another day. I get to try again. I get to live my dream life and spend part of my day writing a story that I hope brings value to myself and others.
How I Practice Self-Forgiveness
For me, the purpose of self-forgiveness is to wipe the slate clean of self-judgment.
When I feel depressed, I think things like, “I’ll never become a good enough writer if I don’t write every day” or “I’m so behind on my goals, I may as well give up for the day/week/month/year.”
Those are some nasty thoughts. They’re what my therapist calls “stinkin’ thinkin’.”
Forgiving myself is my way of starting fresh; it gives me a new opportunity to show up as I am, without the need for constant improvement.
My strategy is to write in my journal, following these steps:
- Write how I feel, e.g., “I feel sad and frustrated because I haven’t been writing recently.”
- Validate my feelings, e.g., “I’m struggling with a mental illness right now; anyone in my position would feel the same way.”
- Forgive myself for experiencing emotional pain, e.g., “I forgive myself for not writing for a few months, and for being hard on myself. I choose to begin again now.”
With these three steps, I feel seen, heard, validated, and capable of starting again from where I am instead of being filled with regret about the past.
Self-Forgiveness is an Important Part of Self-Care for Mental Illness
Jenny Capper writes and vlogs for the “Mental Health for the Digital Generation” on HealthyPlace.com and she posted a video about the importance of forgiving yourself if you struggle with mental illness.
In her video, Capper gives the example of criticizing herself for procrastinating on a project. But this self-criticism leads to a struggle with confidence. So, she practices self-care by remembering that she has a relationship with herself that needs to be nurtured (just like any other relationship).
She says she copes with her feelings of self-criticism by changing her self-talk and treating herself the way she’d treat a dear friend. I’ve done the same thing, and it helps me feel better and be more productive, which is an important value of mine.
Self-Forgiveness is a Vital Step Towards Self-Love
Capper is right — we each have a relationship with ourselves that is worthy of time, care, and attention. And that relationship can be defined, like any other relationship. Ask yourself the following questions to assess the nature of your relationship with yourself:
- What’s my first thought or feeling when I look in the mirror?
- Do I deflect compliments or accept them whole-heartedly?
- How do I feel about receiving criticism?
If these questions bring up difficult feelings or make you cringe, you probably need to develop a more loving relationship with yourself. Remember, the first step is not to feel bad about feeling bad; it’s to forgive yourself. From the posture of forgiveness and grace, you can develop healthy habits that support your wellbeing and nurture your self-love.