There are people who experience depression. Some of us escape this affliction, but a large number of us will experience bouts of depression that can be pretty awful.
During a bout of depression, it’s normal to find it difficult to get out of bed. When this happens, people that are depressed will beat up on themselves with statements like:
“Just get out of bed. Why is it so hard to get out of bed? Now half the day is gone and you’ve got nothing to show for it.”
What’s amazing about a script like this is that most people wouldn’t tolerate another person talking to them this way. They recognize that it’s abusive to have another person talk to them in this way. But this is how they talk to themselves.
In a nut shell, depression is about the way that people talk to themselves. Let’s re-visit the script that I wrote down a couple of paragraphs ago, one line at a line. As we go, l will propose alternatives to the text that carry pretty much the same content, but that offer compassion to the person that’s finding it difficult to get out of bed, rather than contempt.
- “Just get out of bed.”
Alternative: “Wow. I can see you’re having trouble getting out of bed today.”
- “Why is it so hard to get out of bed?”
Alternative: “I can see you’ve struggling. Looks like you could sure use a friend.”
- “Now half the day is gone and you’ve got nothing to show for it.”
Alternative: “What do you need, sweetheart? How can I help?”
I expect everyone will agree that the alternative text that offers compassion is preferable, whether you’re the person on the receiving end, or the one doing the talking.
Everyone will likely also agree that it’s hard to find someone who will stand beside us when we’re down and deliver the alternative sentences. Even if we find that person, they’re not going to always be available when we need them. Right?
But not so. There is someone that we can all count of to show up when we need them to show up, to offer us compassion when we need a friend. They are available at all times, day or night. That person is ourselves.
If you think about it, the only person we can truly count on to always be there when we need them is ourselves. The trick, then, is to begin to ask ourselves to show up when we need compassion.
Let’s try this exercise again. This time, let’s just present the alternative text that we developed earlier in this exercise, all by itself. Let’s say you are experiencing depression and are finding it difficult to get up in the morning. Imagine that you show up for yourself with the following message:
“Wow. I can see you’re having trouble getting out of bed today. I can see you’ve struggling. Looks like you could sure use a friend. What do you need, sweetheart? How can I help?”
When we’re met with the kind of compassion offered in this alternative text, we all feel better. We feel like we’re truly being seen and heard. And we respond to that compassion.
Let’s continue to develop this dialogue, with responses from our depressed selves after we hear the comfort offered by our most compassionate selves.
“Wow. I can see you’ve having trouble getting out of bed.”
Response. “I am. I have no motivation to do anything.”
“I can see you’re struggling. Looks like you could sure use a friend.”
Response. “I feel so isolated. I’ve even abandoned myself this morning.”
“What do you need, sweetheart? How can I help?”
Response. “I need support. I need someone to show up today to really care about me.”
Responses like this are what depressed people crave. Things can start to get much better for them when they start showing up for themselves.
This is where they start to say, “I care about you. I will always be here for you. I am not going anywhere.”
These response make all the difference. When they really show up for themselves. When they start to really care about themselves.
To be truly present for yourself, and to truly care about yourself, will be difficult at first. It will feel uncomfortable, mostly because it’s never happened before. But hang in there. Stay present. Offer yourself the compassion that you need. It will make all the difference.
It will likely be helpful to imagine that you are your current, older self, as the part that is offering compassion. And that the depressed, hurting part is your younger self. Go ahead. Give it a try. What have you got to lose?
And what do you stand to gain if you keep offering yourself compassion, again and again and again?
— Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta