In her new book, Feeling Better: A Guide to Liking Yourself, Andrea Loewen shares the concrete habits she developed to teach her brain and heart that she is an awesome and wholly valuable person in the face of anxiety and depression—a trip report to healing from someone who’s been there. Read on for her personal guide tailored SAD Mag readers!
There is an unfortunate idea out there that poor mental health and creativity somehow go hand in hand. That artists must be tortured, depressed, anxious, or unable to tell where reality stops and the imaginary begins. That brilliance relies, in some way, on hating one’s self.
Yes, a lot of artists have suffered from mental health issues. Guess what? Same goes for economists and dentists and stay-at-home parents. The truth is that a lot of people live with mental health issues. We like to think of artists as unique, mystical beings, but at the end of the day, artists are people, and healthy people can do more things, if for no other reason than the fact that they usually stay alive for longer. Depression, for example, is the antithesis of creation: it steals motivation, saps courage, and spends most of its time looking in at itself. When it does look outside, it only generates frightful and impossible comparisons. None of this is a recipe for great art.
My work improved exponentially once I started taking my mental health seriously and learned how to manage my depression. Here are some of the things that worked for me, and might work for you. You can try as many of them as you like, in any order.
Find one person you trust to talk to about it.
I don’t mean a person who you will sit and commiserate with, talking about how terrible you both feel. I mean a person who can check in and encourage you as you take steps towards healing. Someone who might help you sit down and make an appointment with a counsellor or do the research on a useful book to read. This requires an entirely different kind of vulnerability and should be considered carefully.
Start to identify your particular brand of nasty thoughts.
This is the start of some cognitive behavioural work, which was the bread and butter of my own personal depression treatment. The first step is just to notice what kind of nasty things you are telling yourself.
The key is not to flag any old thought just because it is negative, but to look for the ones that are global and permanent. Global thoughts are the ones that are about you as a person, not just something you’ve done: “I am terrible” versus “I just said something terrible.” Permanent thoughts are the ones that suggest things will always be this way: “I will never be a good artist” instead of “I am not happy with this piece.” You’ll know you’ve hit the jackpot when they sound like something you would never write into the dialogue of a story because they seem too melodramatic.
For now, just start to notice when these thoughts sneak into your brain. Give the voice behind them a name—one you really don’t like. This will help you start to identify the thoughts as separate from you, and perhaps unreliable. Maybe you will even start to get bored with its repetitive criticisms. Roll your eyes behind its back.
Schedule the self-loathing in for later.
When you want to get some work done but can’t stop rejecting your ideas, just schedule your self-loathing or worry for a little later. Appease that voice by saying, “Yes, this idea is probably the worst, but I have to do something and so I’m going to try it out, then when I’m done you can come out and judge the heck out of it.”
Then lock that jerk in a little room for the sake of getting something done.
Sometimes, the voice keeps shouting at you from behind the door. It is worried that you might forget something to hate yourself for later. Play along by jotting them down for the appointed time. Just in point form, like a bored secretary: “Yes, okay, unoriginal concept, sure, never had a good idea, got it, everyone will laugh, okay I’m going to work now.”
Remind yourself of the good.
Once a day, or at the very least once you complete a project, take stock of the things you like about yourself and your work, as well as any external corroboration. Note everything positive, no matter how small, from the fact that you like the composition of your last piece to a colleague saying they enjoyed working with you.
Write it down. This is vital; thoughts are slippery and wishy-washy. If you just think about the good things you will get distracted and forget. When you write it down, you have to actually go through each step and you have evidence after the fact that you do, in fact, have good traits.
These are a few of the things that I found useful while learning to get through my self-loathing and actually like myself. The rest is in my book, Feeling Better: A Field Guide to Liking Yourself, available on Amazon and Indigo.
You can find Feeling Better: A Guide to Liking Yourself online at the above sites, or join Andrea for the launch at Massy Books on February 21st. The night will feature a reading and Q&A, as well as a performance by musical improviser Jennifer Pielak accompanied by Peter Abando, with artwork on display by Manuela Camisasca.