Do you ever have thoughts like these?
“Dad liked my brother BETTER than he liked me.”
“Alison is PRETTIER than I am.”
“Johnny is SMARTER than I am.”
“Tanya has a bigger home and flashier car.”
In reality, everyone has strengths and weaknesses, talents and deficiencies, assets and liabilities. You’re heading for depression if you only look at other people’s strengths, talents and assets and focus only on your weaknesses and deficiencies and liabilities.
When I was in college, I admired Jackie Kennedy. She was beautiful, wealthy, polished and admired. I was none of those things. As the years went by, I realized that she didn’t have such a wonderful life after all. Her parents were divorced. Her father was a womanizer who showed up drunk to her wedding. Her husband, another womanizer, was absent when she had a miscarriage and when Caroline was born. A quiet, thoughtful introvert, Jackie struggled to fit in with her extroverted, competitive in-laws. Her husband was murdered in front of her, etc, etc. I realized I’d NEVER (I really mean it!) trade places with her! As the years went on, I found that people who seem to have everything often have a great deal of pain and heartbreak included in their “everything.”
Here’s an exercise to try: the next time you find yourself wishing your life was like someone else’s, take a good look at every aspect of that person’s life. Would you want that person’s parents, mate, health, or personal problems?
During my years in therapy, I learned that certain ways of thinking can lead to depression, as well as other unpleasant experiences. One of them I’ll call the “ALWAYS/NEVER MINDSET.”
“I NEVER get recognition for my work.”
“My boss ALWAYS ignores my suggestions.”
When you hear yourself say or think “ALWAYS” or NEVER,” you need to stop and examine the truth of such statements. Would it be more honest to say, “I seldom get recognition for my work”? If so, how often do your peers get recognition for theirs? Is it possible you are not being singled out but being treated like everyone else? How does this consideration affect your attitude? When you say “always” do you really mean “often” or sometimes”?
Personal relationships can also be adversely affected by the ALWAYS/NEVER MINDSET.
“You ALWAYS leave your dirty socks on the floor!”
“You NEVER have dinner ready on time!”
Great way to start an argument! Life is much more pleasant if you limit your use of those two words.
Writers learn to pay attention to every word and the emotions each conveys. Here’s an exercise to discover how you’re programming your moods: Just for one day, listen carefully to your thoughts and words. How many times did you use the words, “always” or “never”? How did you feel at the end of the day?
When I was teaching, it became obvious to me that those students who had trouble writing clearly usually had trouble thinking clearly, and that learning to write well teaches you to think logically. One example that comes to mind concerns a friend who was hired to do a study and write a report for a major company. When he handed in his report, the person who hired him said, "This isn't what I wanted!" My friend replied, "It may not be what you wanted, but it's what you asked for." Then he proceeded to pull out the contract the two had made and show that he had done exactly what the contract called for.
If you've ever heard, said, or read the words, "That isn't what I meant," you've experienced a case of unclear thinking, speaking or writing. I once had a student who wrote, "When I was in England, it felt funny to be driving on the wrong side of the road." Stop and think about that sentence. The word, "funny" could mean either "humorous" or "strange." I can't imagine applying either meaning to driving on the wrong side of the road. I might have chosen "terrifying." What my student meant was that it felt funny (strange) to be driving on the left side of the road. Alternatively, he could have used quotes to indicate that the word "wrong" is being used ironically.
Here's a revealing exercise that not only helps improve your writing but may also help with depression: Try writing your thoughts down, waiting a few days, and then examining what you really said!
I once had a student ask me, "If I write a story and send it to an editor, and it's rejected, does that mean I'm not a writer?"
There were several problems in this person's thinking. One is the assumption that if you're a writer, everything you write will sell automatically to whomever you present it. In truth, I've heard editors and agents say they reject more than 90 percent of unsolicited manuscripts. Consider that Vincent Van Gogh created more than 900 works of art, but sold only one in his lifetime. Yet today his works sell for millions of dollars. Would you say he wasn't an artist?
There is a second mistaken assumption my student made, and that is that a rejection is telling you that a work is no good. In fact, editors routinely reject material for a number of reasons. A story or an article may not meet their needs. It may be too long or too short, or too similar to another piece they recently published. It might not fit the image or the standards of their publication. An agent who specializes in spy novels may not be interested in trying to sell a mystery. J. K. Rowling was turned down by several publishing houses before she sold the first Harry Potter book. Robert Pirsig received 120 rejections before he finally sold Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
The third mistaken assumption my student made was that a story that doesn't sell the first time out is hopeless, and there is no sense in trying to improve it. In fact, many stories and articles that are published have undergone revisions and rewrites after initially being rejected. Even for a good writer, writing isn't necessarily easy!
The fourth mistaken assumption is that if you don't succeed the first time, you ought to give up. One failure doesn't define who you are! Every writer I know has a collection of rejection letters.
Can you see how mistaken assumptions can lead to and deepen depression?
Those who know me and those who have read my book know that there are three subjects dear to my heart: mysteries, writing, and coping with depression. They may seem like unrelated subjects, but each is really about figuring things out: who committed a crime or how or why, how do I say exactly what I mean in a way that won't possibly be misunderstood, or why do I feel the way I do and how can I change the way I'm feeling? In this blog, I intend to talk about all three subjects. I aim to make the day's subject clear in the title of each post.
Stephanie Kay Bendel is the author of EXIT THE LABYRINTH: A Memoir of Early Childhood Depression – Its Onset and Aftermath, MAKING CRIME PAY: A Practical Guide to Mystery Writing, and A SCREAM AWAY, a romantic thriller published under the house name, Andrea Harris. She has also written numerous short stories and articles on writing.