You’re Not Fatter* than You Were Yesterday

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I had a day earlier this week where I walked into the bathroom at work, and the reflection in the mirror absolutely horrified me. I looked gigantic — somehow way fatter* than I had looked the day before. My hair was horrible, my clothes didn’t fit right, my shoes looked stupid, my make-up wasn’t doing anything to fix how tired and awful I looked. It was bad.

For the rest of the day, I just kept thinking, “How the hell did I leave the house looking like this?” I kept my head down, compulsively tugging on my clothes to try to hide myself and trying in vain to fix my hair. Then in the afternoon, a woman I worked with stopped me. She said, “You look so cute today! Have you lost weight?”

Hold on, what?

Was she blind? Did she see the way I looked? I was so busy hating the way I looked and trying to hide that I hadn’t considered the possibility that maybe the problem wasn’t my body or my appearance. Maybe the problem was my perception of my body and my appearance.

It’s amazing the way depression (or anxiety or low self-esteem) can affect the way you see  yourself. For years, I assumed that I looked shittier on days when I was depressed because I was depressed. When I’m depressed, I don’t eat or sleep well, I don’t pay much attention to what clothing I wear, and I put the bare minimum effort into my appearance. It stands to reason, then, that I look way worse on days when I’m depressed, right?

But what if the depression doesn’t actually make me look like crap? What if the depression convinces me I look like crap, when in actuality I look pretty much the same?

I’m a little embarrassed to admit how completely floored I was by this realization. I mean, I have spent countless days beating myself up for how awful I looked. There have been more days than I want to think about where those feelings of unattractiveness and worthlessness were so overwhelming, I could barely think about anything else. And it was all in my head? That was a mind blowing realization for me.

Just in case you have days like that, here’s what I have to say to you:

You’re not fatter than you were yesterday. Unless you ate something that made you really sick and bloated or you’re actually pregnant, it’s a physical impossibility that you put on enough weight between yesterday and today to be noticeable. It’s all in your head.

Your clothes didn’t get uglier over night. That sweater you wore last week didn’t suddenly become the ugliest piece of clothing you’ve ever seen in your entire life. The sweater didn’t change, your brain chemistry did.

Your hair might be worse today than it usually is, but no one cares. Look, I’m not going to lie to you, sometimes you have a bad hair day, but I promise no one is analyzing it and judging it the way that you are. Throw it into a ponytail, ignore it, and keep moving.

Your skin, your outfit, your nails — whatever it is that you’re self-conscious about — are virtually unchanged from yesterday. You’re still the same ravishing, intelligent, kind, beautiful, kick-ass human being you were yesterday. Don’t let your brain tell you any differently. All that negativity is only in your head.

If you’re feeling really bad about the way you look, you have two options. The ideal option would be to take a good long look in the mirror and find all the things you do love about yourself, because there is so much about you that’s beautiful and lovable. I know that some days that’s just not going to happen though, and that’s okay. On the really bad days, you can just avoid the stupid mirror altogether. In fact, if you need to, you can avoid anything that will encourage you to pass judgment on yourself. No scales, no clothing shopping, no pictures. Just focus on your self-care, do a little emergency mental health maintenance, and keep fighting the good fight until your brain catches up with reality.

It will catch up, probably sooner than you think, and you’ll be able to see yourself for what you truly are: beautiful, brilliant, and amazing.

Author’s note: this was a really tough one for me to write, because I kept thinking “maybe this is just me. Maybe other people don’t do this.” Ultimately I decided to share, because I realized that every time my brain convinces me that I’m the only one deluded, depressed, or crazy enough to think the things I think, it turns out that it’s yet another lie my brain is feeding me to isolate me in my depression. I hope this is helpful and/or meaningful to you. Please feel free to share your story in the comments, or on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. You can also e-mail me at findingthwaytowell@gmail.com if you’d rather not share so publicly.

*A disclaimer: I am all about the body positivity movement and I really and truly believe that there’s beauty in everybody and every body, no matter the size or shape. That being said, it’s hard for me to remember that sometimes when I’m feeling low. This isn’t meant to be a commentary on health or weight, just a reflection of how skewed my brain gets when I’m depressed.

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You Need to Stop Saying “Should” and “Shouldn’t”

“I shouldn’t eat that cookie.”
“I should really work out.”
“I should call my mom.”
“I shouldn’t go out to eat tonight.”

How many times in a day do you find yourself thinking in terms of “should” and “shouldn’t”? If you’re anything like me, the answer to that is probably a lot. Especially if you’re an anxious person, odds are good that your mind runs that should/shouldn’t narrative pretty regularly.

Should-Shouldn't

What’s the big deal? Every time you think in terms of should or shouldn’t, your brain is telling you that for whatever reason, you aren’t good enough the way you are. Depending on your narrative and your own personal brand of insecurities, that can mean a lot of things. Every “should work out” and “shouldn’t eat that cupcake” reminds you that you aren’t happy with your weight. Every “should stay late at work” or “shouldn’t wait until tomorrow to check my work email” reminds you that you don’t think you work hard enough. Our days are a constant barrage of shoulds and shouldn’ts, which is a constant reminder that you aren’t enough the way you are. These reminders can also lead to massive guilt if you don’t follow through on your should/shouldn’t. Now not only do you view yourself as overweight/lazy/bad with money/anti-social/whatever your insecurity is, but you can’t even do this one little thing to make it better. I’m sure you can imagine what an ugly cycle that can lead to.

How do you stop the should/shouldn’t narrative? This part’s a little tricky. We all know that telling yourself not to think about something is a surefire way to have it doing a constant conga line through your brain. Here’s what I want to avoid:

Your brain: I should really work out tonight.
Your brain: Wait — I shouldn’t be thinking the word “should.”
Your brain: Crap, I shouldn’t be thinking “shouldn’t” either.
Your brain: Dammit!

So what to do instead? Try these four steps:

  1. Think of the consequences and rewards.
  2. Check your priorities.
  3. Change the “should” or “shouldn’t” to a “will” or “won’t.”
  4. Follow through.

I know it seems like kind of a lengthy process, but I promise it won’t take more than a few seconds. Here’s what it looks like:

Statement: “I should work out tonight.”
Consequences vs. Rewards: If I work out, I’ll burn some calories and improve my mood. On the other hand, I worked out pretty hard last night, and my muscles are really fatigued. If I don’t work out, I can rest my body and spend some time doing other things that are important to my self-care.
Check your priorities: My health is my top priority. How will that best be served?
Change the narrative: Tonight, I will not work out. I will do ten minutes of light stretching, and I will spend the rest of my usual workout time doing things from my self-care lists.
Follow through: This might be obvious, but do ten minutes of light stretching, and spend the rest of your usual workout time doing things from your self-care lists.

And here’s another one, just for fun:

Statement: “I shouldn’t go out to eat tonight.”
Consequences vs. Rewards: If go out to eat, it will definitely be delicious and I’ll get to spend time with a friend I don’t see very often. If I skip it and eat at home, I will save some money and probably eat something healthier.
Check your priorities: My priorities are my health, my budget, and connecting with people I love. How will that best be served?
Change the narrative: I will not go out to dinner. I will invite my friend over for a homecooked meal at my place instead.
Follow through: Explain to your friend that you want to see them but you’d rather stay in, then cook a killer meal for them that will make them forget why they wanted to go out in the first place.

It’s that simple. It might be hard at first, but it will become second nature before too long. If you start to feel guilty about the choices you make, go back to your consequences vs. rewards and remind yourself: you made the choice that was the best for you right now, and that’s awesome!

Take care of yourselves, and as always, feel free to check in with me via email at findingthewaytowell@gmail.com, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook if you want to chat!

Spring Cleaning Tips (for your Mental Health)

I don’t know what the weather’s like where you are, but we had a few really gorgeous days in Chicago this week. For some reason, I’m always surprised by the lift in my mood and energy levels when it starts to get warm out.

This year, I thought I would try to capitalize on that upswing and do a little spring cleaning. As I may have mentioned, I’ve been pretty depressed lately, and I got it into my head that I would magically be fixed if I could just get my apartment sparkly clean. That probably goes back to my need to control my depression. Don’t get me wrong, a clean and organized space can do wonders for your mental health, but ultimately, the best way to improve my mental health is to go straight to the source.

This year, instead of focusing all of my (somewhat limited) energy on cleaning my apartment, I’m going to focus some of that good, productive energy toward a little mental health spring cleaning. So without further ado, here’s my Mental Health Spring Cleaning List:

Cleaning

  • Get rid of toxic relationships. Examine your relationships, both romantically and otherwise, and ask yourself some questions: does having this person in my life make me happy? Is this person a positive influence in my life? Does this person encourage me to be the best version of myself? If you answered no to any of those questions, it might be time to reexamine your relationship. If you come to the conclusion that it’s a toxic relationship, cut them out of your life. You don’t need to apologize or explain yourself, you just need to move on and find people who make you happy and build you up.
  • Clean up your social media. We all have those friends whose posts drive us crazy, but we’ve never bothered to do anything about it. Now’s your chance! Unfriend, unfollow, or block the people whose posts don’t make you happy. No need to feel guilty — your main goal here is making your social media experience as enjoyable as possible. Bonus: find some folks (especially on Instagram or Twitter) that inspire you and make you happy and follow them (you can even start with Finding the Way to Well)!
  • Fix your self-talk. Start paying attention to the way you talk to yourself throughout the day. If you catch yourself in negative self-talk, ask yourself this: would I talk to my best friend like that? If you struggle with depression or low self-esteem, odds are good that the answer to that will be a resounding “hell no.” Change your inner monologue and start treating yourself with the same compassion with which you’d treat your best friend. You’re worth it!
  • Make your self-care a priority. Whether you’re someone who struggles with mental illness or not, self-care is the single most important thing you can do for your mental health. Read this post about establishing a self-care routine, and then do it! If you have a routine but you’ve let it slide lately, work harder to stick to it. If you have a plan and you’re sticking to it, yay you! Try to find little things you can do to make your self-care even better, like journaling or meditating.
  • Change one bad habit. No matter how good you’ve gotten at self-care, we all have bad habits that can harm our mental health. It could be that you consistently stay up too late or hit the snooze fifty times, that you apologize constantly when you don’t need to, or that you say yes to everything because you feel guilty for saying no. Whatever your bad habit is, decide to change it and stick to that decision. Make your mental health a priority! And on the flip side of that…
  • Establish one new good habit. What’s one thing you’ve wanted to start doing, but you’ve never taken the time to do it? Daily yoga? Daily meditation? Journaling? Find something that will improve your mental health and make it a daily habit! If deciding to do something every single day is too daunting, set smaller goals. Aim to practice your habit three or four days a week to start out. Once you see the positive effects of your brand new habit, you just might be motivated to start doing it more often.
  • Start focusing on the positive. You know those frustrating little things throughout the day that make you shake your head and ask “why me?!” Well, take the time to find the positive in life’s little annoyances. You might be surprised what a difference it makes to actively look for the positive. If you’re feeling ambitious, check out the Positive 30 Challenge that I did and give it a try!

It doesn’t matter if you do one thing or do all seven, just make the choice to make your mental health a priority this spring! As lovely as it is to have a clean house (and it probably wouldn’t hurt to do a little spring cleaning there too), doing a little mental health spring cleaning will be way more helpful in the long run.

Take care of yourselves, and as always, reach out to me via email at findingthewaytowell@gmail.com, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook if you want to share!

I was too Depressed to Write a Post this Week

Too Depressed

I tried to write like four different posts this week, and I just couldn’t do it. I stared at my computer screen endlessly, willing the words to not sound like garbage. The writing was bad, I felt like a fraud, I couldn’t complete my thoughts. It just wasn’t going well. I chalked it up to writer’s block, a lack of original thought, and not getting enough sleep, because I didn’t want to face the fact that’s been staring me in the face for several weeks: I’m really freaking depressed.

My therapist very gently brought up this possibility in my last session when I was complaining about being tired all the time, crying and getting angry even more easily than usual, and irregular sleep patterns. Just, I don’t know, your basic depression symptoms. I brushed her off. Surely I couldn’t be depressed. I’ve been practicing self-care, taking my medication (even when people are jerks about it), exercising, eating relatively well, and getting (almost) enough sleep. How could I possibly be depressed?

Fast forward to Wednesday night (a mere two days later), as I sit on my bathroom floor crying on the phone to my mom in the middle of the night. Touché, therapist. Touché. Once again, my therapist proves how brilliant and insightful she is. (Seriously, if you need a recommendation for a good therapist in Chicago, let me know.)

I feel a little ridiculous for not catching it sooner, but the fact is that I didn’t want it to be depression, because that would mean that I didn’t have as much control over it as I thought I did. Don’t get me wrong, all of those self-care things are vitally important, but sometimes your brain chemistry gets screwed up and there’s only so much you can do without changing your medications or spending some serious time with a therapist.

So I’m writing this instead. I’m writing this because I know that there’s a 100% chance that at least one of you had a shitty week too. Maybe you’re one of the lucky people for whom this week was awesome. Hell, maybe it was the best week of your life. If you’re one of those people, yay you! Feel free to bookmark this post for a rainy day and go back to your shiny, happy life, because this post isn’t for you right now.

This post is for the people whose week sucked. The people who had to scrape the bottom of their emotional energy barrel just to drag themselves out of bed, put on pants, and interact with the world. The people who had to work so hard just to compose their face into something that vaguely resembled “friendly human,” so no one would ask them “who died?” or tell them how terrible they look. This is for the people who had a regular run of the mill bad week and the people who were just feeling a little grumpy for no good reason, but it’s also for the people who spent every waking moment thinking about hurting or killing themselves.

Here’s what I have to say to you: you matter. Every single one of you reading this is important to me and to the rest of the world. This shitty day, week, month, or even year does not define you, and won’t make up your entire future. Even if you’re in the worst pain you can imagine, I swear to you that the good days will come back. You will be okay, even if it doesn’t feel like it. You are strong (I know this because anyone who struggles with stuff like this and keeps going has to be strong), and you can make it through this week. In the words of my beautiful, brilliant best friend Anna, if Monica Lewinski can make it through 1998, you can make it through this crappy week.

The bad stuff isn’t permanent, even when it feels like it couldn’t possibly get any better. You are strong. You are important. The world needs you, and I need you. Keep fighting the good fight. I’ll be here for you.

Feel free to email me at findingthewaytowell@gmail.com or find me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter if you want to talk. If things are really bad, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1(800)273-8255. Please. There’s no shame in asking for help when you need it. Your life is too important not to.

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Here’s a picture of Mostaccioli sticking his tongue out like a doofus, if you needed a smile.