In dealing with my mental illness, I have found it helpful to acknowledge not only the small, beautiful moments in life, but also the resolution of small goals. It’s important to give myself positive feedback, even when what I accomplished isn’t a major life goal. Graduating from college, receiving recognition or advancement in the workplace, marriage, and the arrival of children are obvious examples of what society sees fit to congratulate us upon.
But what if we delve closer? Building positivity and self esteem start at a much more base-line level than those major life events/successes.
When mental illness is really hurting (at least for me), sometimes constant encouragement is necessary. No one else can do that for me. When I am having trouble getting out of bed, it helps to praise myself for what I DO accomplish when I’m finally up and running. Examples of things that I try to recognize my own efforts in:
-Getting grocery shopping done
-Paying bills and managing money
-Writing or producing any creative projects
-Taking care of or providing comfort for another person (to any degree)
-Caring for my cats/providing them with (excessive) attention
-Spending money wisely
-Cooking (I’m a novice)
-Eating healthy foods in moderation
-Finding opportunities to donate to good causes every so often
-Picking out a perfect gift or creating a surprise for someone
-Doing a particularly witty job of producing laughter in other people
-Finishing any type of project
Some days, it can be as simple as:
-Taking a shower
-Brushing my teeth
It all depends on how well I’m feeling. All of these are either things that I have a hard time doing while I am struggling with illness or things that I struggle with in general. I try to give myself praise for both. It’s hard for me to be loving towards myself. So often, I beat myself down. I feel that telling myself I did a good job is a great way to build confidence and self esteem.
It’s hard because negative self talk and guilt often get in the way. As in, “Oh, yes indeed! What a wonderful job you did cleaning the kitchen sink! …Are you aware that millions of people are suffering right now? You need to watch the news more… [continue guilt driven rant].” I have to fight back for myself and answer, “Yes, but this is the best I can do right now. I need to learn to be proud of it, and myself, so that I can even begin to have the capacity to BE a positive force in the world.”
As a current example of meeting a small goal, I would like to scream that I just finished reading Emma (Jane Austen)! My concentration is not what it used to be, due to anxiety and depression. Emma is almost a 500 page book, and I read it in a little over two months. For me, that’s pretty awesome. I’ve chewed on shorter books for 6 months or more. I’m pretty psyched that I made that kind of progress. I feel like I need to give myself credit for this success (especially as a depressed alumni English major).
Give yourself credit for small things, even if they only matter to you. They still matter (in the sentiments of a therapist I’m seeing). You deserve kindness and attention, especially attention to detail when you are hurting.