It wasn't until I was in my thirties that I finally realized I'd been depressed since I was a small child. I was shocked. When I looked at the things psychologists deemed necessary for the mental health of a child, I saw that my parents provided all of them. In fact, as an adult and as a parent myself, I marveled at the quality of parenting I'd grown up with. How, then, had I become depressed?
As I documented in my book, Exit the Labyrinth, it was only after therapy with two excellent psychiatrists that I was able to remember incidents I'd forgotten for years and I finally understood how my early childhood interpretation of those events distorted my self-image, leading me to believe that I could never be good enough--that if people knew what I was really like, they'd hate me. That belief kept me from loving--or even liking--myself.
Self-image is what you think and feel about yourself. Of course, as children grow up, many factors contribute to their self-image, including how they interpret events around them. A child who has difficulty learning and hears "You're just lazy," or "You're stupid," will take those messages to heart and accept them as truth. Children who're painfully shy and find it hard to approach others will often conclude that others don't like them or even that there is something wrong with themselves.
The bottom line is: when you look in the mirror, do you like what you see? How do you think others see you? Do you wish you were different?
If what you see in the mirror makes you unhappy, you may need to evaluate your thinking. The thinking of depressed people is often unrealistic. Studies show that almost half the women of normal weight think they are overweight. That's not surprising when you look at advertising, television and the movies, where every woman seems to have a perfect figure, teeth, complexion and hair--unless she's someone who isn't taken seriously! Men suffer, too. In real life, two-thirds of men have appreciable hair loss by the age of thirty-five. By the ago of fifty, 85% have significantly thinning hair. That is reality. It's normal! Yet how many men feel bad and conclude that they are no longer sexually attractive when their hair visibly thins? Did you know that Patrick Stewart, who is completely bald, was recently named "2019 sexiest actor alive?"
If you believe that you are inadequate in some way--not making enough money, not having enough friends, not talented or skilled enough, not respected or appreciated enough, not attractive enough--you may need to examine what you believe is "enough."
Too often we don't distinguish between "need" and "want." When we believe that we "need" something that isn't a necessity, we're really trying to fill a hole in our heart. That need may be the loss of someone or something that was important to us, or it may be that "empty" feeling that we aren't important enough. Often we turn to showing off our latest possessions or boasting about our accomplishments in order to make ourselves feel better. But those feelings don't last long, and what we've really done is make others feel bad by comparison. In turn, others will either distance themselves, or one-up you, making you feel inadequate again. In this game, there are no winners.
In today's world everyone is trying to convince you that you can have it all, and you can have it now. Advertisements show young, unusually attractive people stylishly dressed, driving new cars, living in beautiful homes that most people can't afford, and partying a lot, giving the impression that that is what everyone--except you--is doing. "But," they imply, "you can live like this, too!" Credit card ads are everywhere, but they don't explain that if you borrow just $3000 at 15% interest and pay only the minimum balance each month, it'll take you 9 years and eight months to get rid of that debt, and you will have paid them $1,798.86 in interest, assuming that you charge nothing more during that 9 years and eight months.
It's important to know how little you really need. When I graduated from college, I had a car that my parents had given me, some clothes, a box of books, and not a of money, but I'd already been taught the difference between wanting and needing, as well as the importance of staying our of debt, and I was confident I could make it on my own. I landed a job that paid monthly, so I had to live on what I had for four and a half weeks. I budgeted my assets to figure out what I could afford. I rented a furnished room in a pre-Civil War house. There was a pay phone and the bathroom was down the hall. I had a lock on my door, so I felt safe. Cheese, salami and rye bread kept well without refrigeration, so I always had something on hand to eat. When I got a raise, I was able to move to a place with my own bathroom and a refrigerator!
That experience taught me how little I really needed and how much control I had over my own life when I wasn't anxious about getting what I "wanted."
Perhaps the most surprising thing was that my depression was minimal during this time. I wasn't trying to compete with anyone else, just trying to do my job well. The work was interesting, my co-workers were friendly enough, and the pride and feeling of confidence for being able to take care of myself raised my self-image immensely.
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.