I agree with many others, neurotypical and otherwise, who find people telling others to just “get over” mental illnesses or “be more positive.”
It seems fairly commonplace to denounce these platitudes. At least, I see people countering them with anger–rightfully accusing the phrases of inadequacy.
I do want to talk about how beginning to alter my thought process has helped tremendously with how I function now. However, it is important for me to stress that this could not have been possible without medicine. I also want to stress that this is my limited experience and that this works for me, and perhaps, me alone.
The important thing I learned was that gaining a healthier self-awareness and self-dialogue didn’t just mean internalizing sappy catch phrases. I paid attention to everything I could about myself and found that practicing intentional mindfulness helped tremendously.
It was with the help of my current therapist that I began this process. Paying attention to myself was the first step towards beginning an intentional internal dialogue.
For me, I had to deal with a fear of myself. Among other inducers of paranoia, my misguided sense of self–primarily that I was one step away from self-sabotage at all times–probably was impacted by my religious upbringing. There were so many things I internalized from my conservative evangelical church settings – namely that I was inherently, disgustingly sinful, that I was on the brink of an unknown death (the Rapture) constantly and that I was responsible for every thought I’ve ever had – that I had to walk away from the church a second time.
I had to separate myself from many aspects of that denomination to heal the rest of myself.
This second departure couldn’t be excused by the transition from high school to college, living in a different state with no vehicle, or simply lacking solid information on church environments around me.
I purposefully acknowledged that I internalized layers and layers of shame and paranoia for things I had no control over. I realized that they did not bear good fruit, resulting only in a muted sense of self.
Beneath the layers of anxiety and depression, I had no idea who I was. Thanks to the process of applying for college, I could certainly highlight the strengths I was aware of, but beyond that I knew nothing.
So, my crash-landing into self-dialogue was anything but gentle. It began with large, unwieldy realizations and quickly crumbled into basic observations.
When I needed to, I spent the more rational moments following anxiety attacks with self-soothing hobbies and incorporated some stereotypical positive phrases.
I made sure to focus on celebrating the end of a panic attack, reminding myself that they did end and praising myself for getting through them. At first, it was necessary to tell myself the obvious basics, mostly that I love myself, that I am proud of myself, etc.
Later, I could break away from stating the obvious and instead reinforcing the statements with acts of self-love, but I had to begin with laying the positive foundations. Furthermore, I didn’t remove dramatic self-love statements from my mind entirely–I just began to rely on them less.
Beginning with emotional and cheesy statements was uncomfortable. Even if it has helped in the long run–and even if I believe in its ability to help ease anxiety, alongside other treatments, repeating the statements felt like taking a walk in too-big shoes.
I was relieved when I found myself improving.
My current therapist recommended the self-love statements, but beyond that I was somewhat left to my own devices on healing how I interacted with myself.
I continued clumsily, internally pointing out the obvious. I made sure to notice what foods I liked and to make/buy them when I could, to intentionally play music I liked and what trees I felt compelled to stop and admire.
For me, going on medication cleared my head of unnecessary and harmful clutter. I had a calmness I’d never felt before, and it allowed me to enjoy aspects of existence I didn’t know could be enjoyable.
Starting out small was easy, and I kept doing it even as I expanded into more introspective self-inquiries. It improved everything from understanding more about myself, learning how to self-soothe and avoid difficult subjects, to making my hobbies more enjoyable.
I happen to enjoy over-thinking in general, especially about miniscule things. Now, it is more or less something I have control over and it isn’t as much influenced by paranoia. I have found that learning to be aware of myself and go out of my way to appreciate things I like was something I innately enjoyed, once it got more natural.
Different things work for different people. I never knew that a good form of self-care was simple awareness of myself but, for me, it has been one of the most healing things I have done.
Cover photo courtesy of socialsciencecollective.org.