The power of a thought.

It started about six years ago. It was a very typical morning. I was getting ready for work. I’d woken up late, as usual. Why can’t I do anything right? I looked in the mirror to evaluate my appearance. My skin is gross. I hate these bags under my eyes. I’m so ugly. I couldn’t find my keys. Why am I so disorganized? I finally made it into the car and headed to work. And then I realized that in the hour I’d been awake, I’d basically done nothing but criticize myself all morning. And it’s any wonder that I ended up having a bad day.

I’m not sure when this started for me, but I know that for a lot of people – especially women – it’s not uncommon. We’re taught to believe we aren’t good enough, or beautiful enough, or perfect enough. And we take these lessons to heart, tearing ourselves down at every opportunity.

I remember thinking that I’d been raised to treat others like I’d want to be treated myself. And yet, I was treating myself far WORSE than I’d EVER treat another person. I’d never walk up to a friend – or even a stranger – and say “Wow. You look pretty disgusting today. And I bet you’re
never going to meet that deadline at work, since you’re so disorganized and stupid.” But I was saying it to myself almost every single day.

I decided that something had to change. A few years earlier, I’d heard about the concept of affirmations – repeating positive statements to yourself in order to make them true for yourself. To be honest, I thought the whole concept was a load of bunk. But I was done with beating myself up, so I decided to give it a go.

I ended up purchasing the audiobook 101 Power Thoughts by Louise Hay. I decided to play it in my car on my commute to and from work, every day. So for 30 minutes every morning and evening, I heard that I was beautiful. Powerful. Wise. Capable of making excellent choices. That I was bringing positive energy and people into my life. That I had everything I needed, and that I was safe.

The results were almost instantaneous. Within days, I felt more alive than I’d felt in years. Within a week, my husband asked what had changed – that I seemed so much happier and less stressed. After two weeks, my boss commented that I seemed to have an extra bounce in my step and commended the extra effort I’d been putting in at work.

ALL of these changes in my life came back to one thing. I’d decided to change the messages I was telling myself. I listened to that CD every day for 3 months, until thinking positively became a habit. When I found myself thinking “you’re so weak,” I’d immediately say instead “you are so strong.” “You’re so ugly” became “Woman, you’re beautiful!”

Did I always believe myself back then? Of course not. Did it feel silly telling myself how fabulous I was? Absolutely. But it worked. It made a difference.

And it still does. These days, six years later, talking positively to myself has become something of a routine. Yes, I still have days when it’s hard to feel good about who I am. I am still learning to trust myself, and I am a work in progress. But I also know it’s important to remind myself of what I have learned to be true: I am strong. I am uniquely me. I am beautiful. I am brave.

And so are you.

While I don’t need to listen to my power thoughts CD every day any longer, I love to surround myself with positive statements. Whether it’s word art on my walls or a handwritten note stuffed in my purse, keeping reminders of what is real and true about myself helps bring light into dark days. It pulls me up and out of bed and into the world.

Bookmarks
One of my very favorite things to do is create art. I started as a scrapbooker, and now consider myself a scrapbooker/mixed-media artist/painter/poet. Translation? I enjoy seeing the perfectly imperfect results when I get out the paint, paper, glue, and whatever other craft supplies strike me at the moment. (And I remember to keep the judgment on the shelf.) Last night, I sat down in my craft room and created these bookmarks as a way to share just a few of the statements that have helped me stay strong.

Do yourself a favor. Go have a peek in the mirror and take a second to let yourself know how truly fabulous you really are.

Little victories

I didn’t write much last week. In fact, I didn’t do quite a bit last week. There was bombing in Boston. Then shooting. Then flooding here in Iowa, and more flooding in Chicago – which significantly hit members of my family and a few close friends. Then explosions in Texas.

There’s a reason I don’t often watch the news. The negativity, the heartbreak, the sadness. It weighs on me so heavily that it makes it harder for me to move forward and harder to see the light. So usually, I just turn it off. But last week, our nation’s heart was heavy, and it was hard to avoid.

PlayingthegameBut lately, there’s one thing that seems to make a difference. When the going gets tough, I do what anyone would do – I play basketball.

I play because I need a win. Even just for me. A chance to say “Yes. I did that.” For about an hour a day, playing basketball
lets me turn off all the noise in my head. There is just me. One ball. One hoop. One goal.

And since I play solo – nothing is standing in my way.

In the midst of grief, of loss, of trauma, victories are important.
Whether it’s giving yourself a high five just for leaving the house, celebrating a met deadline, or simply being stoked for that fabulous hair day, give yourself credit. You’re moving forward. You’re trying. You’re overcoming. You’re taking the shot.

When 2013 began, I declared it would be my best year ever. Because in the aftermath of 2012, didn’t I deserve something better? You bet I do. But four months in, things have not really gone according to plan. I have had some great highs, but there have been some incredible lows, including the loss of a cousin to cancer.

I’m learning that my best year does not mean my easiest year. I must keep showing up. Keep trying. Keep going for it, and trust that the payoff will be worth the work I put in.

When I’m playing basketball, there is nothing quite like that moment when my shot hits perfectly – nothing but net. All of a sudden, I’m in the NCAA tournament and it’s going to be me in the “One Shining Moment” video montage, winning the game with the buzzer-beater. (I’m not sure they even do that montage for women’s basketball, but that’s not really the point, is it?)

Theshot
In life, I know that I just have to keep showing up and putting myself out there. These days, that often means going it alone. Sometimes the stakes are high. Whether it’s leaving a job, traveling out of my comfort zone, or simply acknowledging my true feelings, I know that I have to learn to trust myself. So I go for those little victories. The completed to-do list. The published article. The day where, when I felt like I couldn’t, I found a way to get out the door. And yes, I go for those perfect, nothing-but-net shots with a basketball in my driveway – always believing the game is on the line.

And though it may not feel like these little victories matter, when you can pile up enough of them, all of a sudden, there’s a whole pile of proof that you’re just going to be okay after all.

3 rules.

It happened again yesterday. Just when I think it won’t touch me anymore, and I slack off just a bit. I stay in my pajamas a little longer than I should. It’s Sunday, right? No harm done. I make some phone calls. I’m not feeling my best, so I decide – rather than taking a shower and facing the day – just to have a quick lunch on the sofa and watch a TV show. Then I’ll get up, right? And get started on my to-do list for the day? Sure. No problem. Suddenly, it’s 5:30 pm and I’m startled awake by the sound of my Beagle barking for her dinner. Wait, how did this happen? I don’t even remember deciding to nap. Did I nap? I surely didn’t need to, since I had a healthy 8.5 hours of sleep the night before. Have I just been laying here for 3 hours? What happened? Depression happened. And I let it.

Depression is a tricky little creature, that’s for sure. It can creep up on you pretending it’s an old, comfortable friend. And for a moment, it feels kind of safe and cozy-warm, so you let your guard down. You rest for a moment and decide to be still. You convince yourself that a break from fighting – from living – is okay. You’re just going to lie down and sleep for spell…sometimes
hours. Sometimes days. Sometimes years. Until you decide to wake up. You realize that somehow – again – that nasty depression beast clawed its way under your skin, and you’re going to have to break free.

And it starts with three rules. I developed these rules about 10 years ago, when depression wasn’t something that was part of my past, but rather something that was hitting me square in the face on a day to day basis. I’d finished college and was working my first “real” job. I was dating the man that would eventually become my husband. On the surface, things were pretty fantastic. But underneath, I was a mess. I was living with an autoimmune disorder that hadn’t been diagnosed yet. I was seriously struggling with the transition from dorm to apartment life. And the reality that my fancy new salary wasn’t stretching as far as I’d hoped was weighing on me heavily. On days I didn’t have to go to work, I barely got out of bed at all.

But I did have some good days, too. So I started paying attention. What was making the good days better than the bad ones? And these three little rules were born.

  1. Take a shower. (Bonus points for using a favorite shower gel or spa indulgence – you’re worth it.)
  2. Put on “real” clothes. (No sweatpants, people, we’re conquering the world today!)
  3. Leave the house. (Run errands. Take a walk. Go to the library. It doesn’t really matter – just exit your front door and don’t come back for at least an hour.)

And it’s just that simple. All 3 rules. Every day. No exceptions.

Now, for a lot of people, these things happen automatically. But for those dealing with a deep depression – regardless of whether it’s caused by chemicals or circumstances – these three things can, at times, feel seriously impossible. It becomes easier than you’d guess to rationalize
yourself out of a shower, or into telling yourself that you don’t really need to leave the house today.  But you do.

Once I’d identified my rules, things changed pretty drastically. I felt better – simply because I was actively choosing to show up for each day. Following these rules forces you to get up out of bed and just participate in life. And that, in itself, is typically the first step.

Is following the three rules going to magically change things overnight? No. Are you suddenly going to feel like the weight of depression is gone? Not a chance. But I believe that in order for any other strategy to work, you have to start here. Prepare yourself. Put your game face on. Be ready to show up and simply try.

It will always be easier to get stay in bed. To let depression win. So often, facing the day means facing your fears. Your grief. Whatever is hiding in your heart that you’re too afraid to share with the world.

But it will always be better to get up and fight. And in time, it gets easier. These days, following my rules is pretty much automatic. And yet, letting my guard down still isn’t an option, even all these years later. Yesterday, I chose to ignore my rules, and I ended up missing out on most of what the day had to offer. But the great news is, it’s never too late in the day or too late in your journey to start. There is a whole wide world out there waiting for you. It thinks you’re  beautiful and wants you to come out and play. Dance in the rain. Smile. Breathe in, breathe out. Participate. So please, don’t be afraid to show up. Three little rules and you’re out the
door. Where you go from there is all up to you.