I want to explain today to you. But to do that, I have to start with yesterday. Yesterday was a good day. Today should be the same. I know the building blocks of a good day so I make sure to include them in each new one: I got up early, cuddled with my cat, did some reading, ate a balanced breakfast, took a shower, got to work on time.
However, on the way to the office, I felt it descending over me. Sorrow. Bitterness. Emptiness.
As someone with depression, I’m always trying to feel better. Much of this involves doing my best to keep up with healthy habits like exercise, good hygiene, healthy meals. A lot of it also includes reading self-help books and “focusing on the positive.”
You might not know this, but before Mental Thrillness, I had a blog called Novaa Veo. Novaa Veo was initially my avatar on an online game I played, and then I decided it would be my pen name.
The idea behind my website was this: I thought of Novaa Veo as the Gandalf the White to my Gandalf the Gray. I thought that if I just channeled my best intentions through this flawless alter ego hard enough, I could shed the fucked up parts of my being and become this ideal version of myself.
This isn’t an original idea, and we all love a good avatar story: Onika becomes Nicki, Beyonce becomes Sasha Fierce (although why Queen Bey needs an alter ego is beyond me), and literally every superhero story. We love the idea of a superego to rise above bullshit human drama.
Anyway, I used the blog as a platform for building my ideal self, which meant I only posted things my ultimate self would post. Was I having a bad day? I spoke nothing of it and posted a gratitude list instead. In a good mood? I posted a blog about a life lesson I had to learn to get me there (because at nineteen, ya know, you have lots of “Life Lessonz” to share).
And if I was depressed? I didn’t blog at all.
While I initially enjoyed NovaaVeo.com, it taught me the basics of blogging, and it introduced me to some really cool people I still know today, it began to feel cumbersome and inauthentic.
Representing myself as a glittering rainbow 24/7 was taking its toll. There’s a huge difference between bitching on the Internet until everyone you know unfriends you, and presenting yourself as a superbeing without flaw.
Lots of positive psychology and new agey self-help tells me that it’s my choice to be unhappy, and that I should just pivot away from it! Focus on what’s good! With NovaaVeo.com, I was trying to embody that. Be endlessly optimistic. Be unbeatably happy.
But I am so over that. I am not trying to be a pitiful victim here, but I am also not going to take advice like this any longer because I think it has the potential to be really damaging.
Look, I have a tendency, and maybe you do too, of using self-help and positive psychology as an inadvertent way to punish myself. For instance, if I am feeling shitty, I make a gratitude list. In itself, that is a good idea! Gratitude is proven to make you feel better. BUT if making the list doesn’t shake the blues, I go straight into destruction mode, punishing myself for not responding to what *should* make me feel happy again. I take a tool designed to make me feel relief and twist it into something destructive.
Advice like “Look on the bright side!” may be well-intentioned, but it isn’t the whole answer, and I’m tired of reading articles and getting advice that say it’s that easy. There’s more work to be done than that. (Not to mention the external forces that play into a person’s outlook.)
Like, I try hard—really fucking hard—to be positive, and to look on the bright side. Lots of times I do! But sometimes I just can’t. It’s called depression! Sometimes it doesn’t keep me from the nagging suspicion that we live in a bleak world, and we’re all just tiny specks in a chaotic, random universe. (I'm really fun at parties.)
To suffer with depression is not something I decided to do. Like, “Today I’m going to be sad for no reason and have a panic attack at the water cooler for the hell of it!” It doesn’t work like that, and I’m kind of over people who act like it’s a switch you can flick on or off.
Focusing on the positive is a good idea, but it's far from the whole picture. Feeling better isn’t an easy fix and it isn’t a solo practice. The hallmarks of true healing are patience, care, self-acceptance, and support. Don't let gratitude lists make you feel like it's all your fault. Fuck that.