Fighting the internal critic

muppet-critics

Recently I’ve discovered an insidious creature who lives inside me. Fighting this beastie has now become a daily habit. No, I’m not talking about demon possession or an alien slowly growing in my chest. I’m talking about the internal critic.

The internal critic is that voice in my head that says, “You’ll never be good enough. You’ll never be loved. You’ll always be abandoned. You’ll never succeed. You’re a failure.”

The critic has been with me nearly my whole life. I think I know why, too, although I’ll save that for some future essay. For now, let me just say that the critic goes hand in hand with a variety of types of mental illness, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, both of which I’m dealing with.

Recently my life has taken several turns for the better. I have a job I like. I live in a nice apartment. And I’m in a healthy relationship with someone who loves me very much. I’ve noticed, though, that the critic is shouting louder than ever: in moments of silence; in moments when my partner is away or busy or with other people; in moments when I’m alone in my apartment; and in some moments when I’m with the person I love or doing something I enjoy. The critic has no boundaries and no sense of decorum. It attacks with no provocation and gives no quarter.

Ah, but there’s something not quite right about that last sentence. Because the critic does in fact have provocation. My happiness is what most angers the critic. Joy is its kryptonite, and so it must strike against any sign of contentment.

My friend pointed out recently that it’s when I’m at my happiest that the critic is most fearful. Because if it’s true that someone is in love with me, that my friends care about me, that I’m good at my job, that I have a safe place to live – if those things are true than the critic is wrong.

I’m only just beginning to explore the causes of the critic’s existence. I’ve known about my depression for several years, and I’ve been working on it. But this new wrinkle, PTSD, is still mostly unknown to me. I’m learning, though. Soon I’ll have health insurance and will be back in therapy. And I have a good network of friends and family, and a supportive partner who is not afraid to deal with mental health issues.

So watch out, critic. I’m coming for you.

(But in the meantime, thanks to all of you for reminding me each day that the critic is wrong.)

Dealing with deepening depression

Painting by Louise Udovich
Painting by Louise Udovich

One thing about depression is that for many people, including me, its intensity varies. In my own case, I’m always experiencing a background radiation of depression, but for months at a time I can control it well with drugs and therapy and meditation. Sometimes, though, it gets worse, and even those techniques can’t keep it at bay.

For the past month or two I’ve noticed more severe symptoms returning. I find it hard to accomplish simple tasks. It’s a chore to be around people. I have a real desire to hide in my apartment. It’s hard to concentrate. And I get anxiety attacks — sweating, shaking, a flight response, fast heartbeat, dizziness. I know intellectually that it’s happening, and I still do my three main things (drugs, therapy, meditation), but I can’t out-think my depression.

One of the most annoying things about depression for me is that it tends to lead to behavior that feeds back into the depression. For example, there are tasks I need to complete for people. I don’t finish them, which leads to guilt and anxiety, which makes the depression worse, which makes me even less able to complete these tasks.

All these years of therapy and meditation mean that I’m less prone to beat up on myself than I used to be. Even if I can’t out-think the beast, I can at least realize it’s there and try to be kind to myself while things are at their worst. And I know that I feel like I do because my brain doesn’t work properly, not because I’m a bad person.

As always, I’m not writing about this so that anyone will treat me differently. This has been happening for many weeks and I’ve been out there in the world, trying to be the best me I can be. Most people don’t even notice.

I’m writing about this because I bet other people I know are dealing with similar mental health situations, and they might find some comfort in having company. If I’d broken my leg or been in an accident or been diagnosed with a physical illness, I’d probably talk about it. I think the same should apply to mental illness, assuming the individual is comfortable being open. Everyone’s level of comfort varies.

Anyway, I’m working through this phase. I finally have health insurance, thanks to a beautiful friend, so I should be able to do more therapy and stay consistent with my medication. And I just completed my 800th consecutive daily meditation last night, and I don’t intend to stop now.

Finally, if you think you might be suffering from depression or another mental illness, talk to someone. Most of the time, you can’t talk your way out of these things, but there are ways to get healthier.