Today, as the title suggests, I’m going to share some affirmations that I attempted to use in the mornings on days when I was struggling with my depression or anxiety. I used these on days when I needed to go to work, to try to change my mindset and get myself into a place where I could face the day with less negativity or discomfort.
I can’t pretend that these worked all the time; listening to yourself trying to say kind or motivating things is nigh on impossible when you brain is cackling cruelly over the top of you, decrying any positive affirmation you might try to make.
I tried to base these affirmations on facts, things I could look at objectively to try to ‘prove’ to myself that things would be bearable or manageable. Rather than waste my time trying to convince myself that I was a worthy or useful person, I kept things neutral in order to minimise the volume of my vociferous inner critic, and give it less to fuel its fire of insult and contradiction.
These affirmations did not always get me out of the door. Sometimes, I didn’t even get out of bed to see them. Sometimes, though, I would be despondently brushing or straightening my hair, trying to find something clean to wear or perching on my bed, unsure whether to climb back in or get up; I would see these and think, ‘alright, then’. Maybe I could manage it after all. It’s worth noting that these had the most impact on days when I was feeling more able to attend or at least attempt going to work. Sometimes the darkness, the anxiety or the exhaustion would be too much. These could have been screamed at me through a megaphone with the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders performing a personalised routine around my bed, and I still wouldn’t have got up.
Nevertheless, in my spirit of sharing this Mental Health Awareness week, I thought I would publish these and see if they help anyone else somewhere along the line.
I am perfectly capable and competent at my job and in the workplace
I needed to remind myself of this all the time. It was an encouragement, telling myself that if I did make it into work there wouldn’t be anything there that I couldn’t handle. I was always keen to stress that my work did not contribute to my mental ill health; I knew I could cope with the workload and that the quality of my work was fine. It was comforting at times to remind myself that if I made it to the office, I could carry on with work where I knew what I was doing and most likely wouldn’t be in for any nasty surprises. I didn’t need to worry about appearing strange or obviously unwell, because I knew in reality that I didn’t appear that way. I was capable of doing my job and of interacting with fellow humans in an acceptable way, but I really, really needed to remind myself of this sometimes. Depression is not kind, and even obvious truths become easily distorted.
Nobody pays as much attention to me or my illness as I think they do
Due to my propensity for mind reading, I always thought that everyone knew exactly when I was off, why I was off and had formed their own (negative and judgmental) opinions about me and my character based on this. My colleagues must have assumed that I was lazy or weak. It was a useful reminder to acknowledge that actually, people tend to have better things to do than sit and theorise about the reasons for my absence. I’ll always be self conscious about these things, but that doesn’t mean other people share my viewpoint.
In the long term, not going is actually worse for me than going
I would spend a lot of time worrying about being off from work. It got to the point where I was basically only thinking about being unwell and work, whether I was there or not. I would worry constantly about my absence, and I’m sure this didn’t help me feel any better. I was obsessed by being unwell, and going to work actually gave me a break from that. It was extremely hard to see that, so I needed reminding. It often didn’t feel as though it was making a difference, but any attempt to function as a ‘normal’ human being gave me some breathing space.
I can enjoy my rest day fully
After a time, I reduced my working hours to four days a week, with a rest day scheduled in midweek. If I went to work, it meant I could properly enjoy my day off, and not feel as though I had to behave like I was ill. If I had been unwell prior to my rest day, I wouldn’t allow myself to do anything productive, and has to act as though I was still unwell even if I felt better. This meant I isolated myself and didn’t get things done. If I went to work before my rest day, when the day came I was more likely to appreciate it and let myself do a bit more.
It has never tangibly made me feel worse
This was absolutely true; not once did I drag myself into the office and then feel as though I’d made a terrible mistake and things were in rapid decline. It didn’t necessarily make me feel better all the time, but it never made me feel worse. Once I was there, I could get through it. Getting there was the hardest part.
I often feel my worse in the mornings – my day may get a lot better
I don’t know that this is true for everyone, but it’s usually the case for me. Mornings have never been my best time, I always feel worse in the morning. The majority of my self harm incidents occurred in the morning. The idea behind this affirmation was to cajole myself into just getting through the barriers that were keeping me in my home, or even just my bed. I had a lot to wade through, but often by the time I got home, I felt miles better. It’s just a shame that mornings were my worst time, and I was permanently exhausted. I didn’t always have the energy to battle through the morning, so I tried valiantly to remind myself.
It provides me with a distraction from the constant brain chatter
If I did make it into work, as I’ve said, it never really made me feel worse. Once I was there, provided I had enough to be getting on with, I could usually be distracted by whatever tasks I had to be getting on with. I didn’t give myself a lot of time for moping or feeling bad once I was there, and often it would quiet my brain a little bit. Having a distraction is incredibly useful at times, and if I was in the office I didn’t need to add in that extra layer of chatter about not being in the office.
Working means I feel better about doing other things outside of work
This was quite important, but I don’t think I gave it enough credit. If I was off sick from work, that was it. Part of the problem may well have been that if I was off, I would not allow myself to do anything. I struggled to even go to the shop down the road in case someone from work saw me and decided I wasn’t ill at all. I was incredibly paranoid, and isolating myself definitely didn’t help me to feel any better. I wouldn’t allow myself to do anything that might have improved my mood or my anxiety, and as a result I would often feel worse. If I did go into work, then it was fine for me to see my friends at the weekend or go out for something to eat. If I didn’t, game over. No social activities for me. It’s as though I was punishing myself for daring to feel unwell. It kept me in a cycle of not going in to work which was difficult to break. I would have to talk myself into it, almost bribe myself: ‘If you go into work for these couple of days, you can do something at the weekend!’.
Maybe it’ll be nice to get paid
I mean, I really should have given this a bit more credence than I did. When you start a new job, it tends to be the case that after six months or so, you start to get treated like an actual human. Within the first six months, less so. I very quickly ran out my limited paid sick days, so every time I was off I wasn’t earning anything, even statutory sick pay. This meant that for a few months before I left, my wages were decimated and I couldn’t afford anything. My savings took a hit as I had to dig into them to help pay my rent. My job was quite low paid anyway, factor in not actually being there and it was a recipe for disaster. Using money to persuade myself to go in to work didn’t really help that much, to be honest. By this point I think I was beyond caring, but on a day where I was in between staying or going, sometimes it gave me a little boost.
My condition does not have to be fined by my attendance at work
Quite an important thing to remember, really. I think at times I was so scared of getting better that I almost didn’t want to be 100% fit for work. I thought if I managed to work full time, then I surely couldn’t be that unwell, so what was I doing taking up valuable time at the psychologist’s office or the GP? I was scared of losing my identity as a mentally unwell person, because it felt like all I knew. It didn’t occur to me very often that I could be someone who was clinically anxious and depressed, but I could still go to work if I was able to. It started to feel like an ‘all or nothing’ situation. I’m glad I had the moment of clarity to write this down and remind myself, because I definitely struggled with the cohesion of my identity as a working, functioning being and a clinically depressed limpet.
As I’ve said, these didn’t always work. Much like this blog, though, they gave me a little sense of accountability, and reminded me that somewhere inside there was a sensible, fair person trying to give myself a chance. I never manged to drastically improve my attendance, and as I’ve discussed elsewhere, I ended up losing my job. If I had given myself little pushes like these earlier on maybe I’d have been alright, maybe I wouldn’t.
There is absolutely no guarantee that my insight or attempts to reason with myself would have made much difference no matter when I tried to implement them, but I think it’s an important thing to have. I could have read all the positive affirmations that have ever been collected by the internet, and it wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference. I would probably have actively rebelled against them, just to prove a point. The fact that these came from me was so important, a reminder that I was capable of doing something other than rampant self-destruction.
Have you ever tried self-affirmation? Is it something you think might be useful for you? Let me know!