If anxiety and depression had a baby, it would be named “self doubt.” Also, that baby would suck.
Anxiety and depression are the most common side effects in any individual that’s diagnosed with a mental illness. Sometimes it’s just general anxiety or clinical depression specifically, and sometimes it’s a symptom of a larger problem such as bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder. I have to remind myself daily that even neurotypical people get anxious or experience waves of depression, and to some degree, managing these emotions are a normal part of being a human being. Regardless of normality, it’s difficult to handle the scope of self doubt, which is the perfect storm of depression and anxiety. The struggle is literally in the name: how do you manage your unfavorable symptoms like anxiety and depression when you doubt your ability to do so in the first place?
Sometimes self doubt gets us when we’re applying ourselves to an activity or action, whether it’s a brand new endeavor or something we typically know we’re good at. This week, I’m making candles in the hopes that I can open an online shop. Tomorrow, I’ll be experimenting with resin to make jewelry. Last month, I started a collective blog regarding mental illness (Girl Precarious), and a couple of weeks ago, I launched a patreon to help me pay the bills while I try out this whole “writing” thing. I’m aware of the fact that I’m constantly “switching channels” on what I want to funnel my energy into. I used to feel a great sense of pride when I’d skip from activity to activity. I felt like it indicated that I was multi-talented and ambitious. On my good days, I still feel this way. On my bad days, however, I’m overwhelmed with a deep sense of self doubt.
I worry that I’m wasting my time on trying to better myself and my situation. I worry that I’m annoying my friends and loved ones with all my activity. I worry that I’m a burden on my partner, because he works day in and day out to pay the bills while I mess around with what (when my self doubt kicks in) looks like hobbies. I worry, when my self doubt is present, that I’m just a big joke and everyone around me is in on it but me.
Being a person with bipolar disorder, my moods fluctuate not only quickly, but in intensity. Where as someone might experience a twinge of self doubt when their projects aren’t reciprocated, or they aren’t progressing at the pace that they feel they should be, I feel waves of palpable self loathing and embarrassment. The most frustrating part of my disorder is not knowing “who” I’m going to be when I wake up each day. By way of my mood journal, I’ve noticed that I almost always feel neutral early in the morning, but when my day is affected by some outside factor, it sets the tone for the rest of the day.
If I wake up to an encouraging comment on my blog in the morning, I’m likely to zip through my day with a pep in my step.
If I wake up to something disparaging or some light ribbing from a friend that I wasn’t prepared for, I’m likely to float through my day with anxiety and the overwhelming sense that I’m a joke, a failure, not enough, or too much.
In an attempt to prepare for my next swing of self doubt, I try to remain aware that I’m overcome with emotion when I don’t receive the attention and encouragement I anticipate when I do something I’m proud of. I’m initially aware that this is kind of childish, but in an effort to be gentle with myself, I have to assume that this is, to some degree, a normal human reaction. Naturally, we’d all be better off if we didn’t rely so heavily on validation from others, but isn’t it kind of normal to want to be liked? Reminding myself that I’m not alone in my emotions is always a first step to defeating self doubt. Sometimes I don’t feel it, but I still try to remind myself to recite the truth: everyone feels this way sometimes.
Regarding self doubt when progress is concerned, it would be great if we could pick up a new activity or pursue a new dream, and be lucky enough to damn near perfect it from the get-go. Unfortunately, this typically isn’t the case. When things don’t turn out the way we were hoping, self doubt is a natural reaction. I find it helpful to read the stories behind the people I admire most. I typically find comfort in the fact that it has taken most of them years to perfect their trade. It might not feel like it, but you’re getting better at doing whatever it is you’re doing every day, everytime you give it a shot. Trust that this isn’t just “feel good” narrative, but absolutely the way things work: practice makes perfect. Sometimes you have to ignore the self doubt and blindly trust that you’re getting better and better with each attempt.
Self doubt takes many forms. For me, it’s a fairly short (but intense) emotion that happens sporadically. Just like all my symptoms, self doubt can be triggered by seemingly random outside influences. Sometimes, nothing at all triggers it– it just happens.
I have come to terms with the fact that self doubt is going to rear its ugly head from time to time, with very little rhyme or reason… and sometimes the trigger is totally valid. Ultimately, the only thing that can defeat self doubt is sitting tight, holding on, and letting the storm pass. If all you can muster is a little self love, that’s fine. Take a day to lick your wounds and feel sorry for yourself. That’s totally okay.
If you feel like you can power through it, the best thing you can do is try to prove yourself wrong. Taking things step by step, I encourage you to try to accomplish something— no matter how small. Remind yourself that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and always trust that nothing is permanent. If you’re feeling self doubt today, know that it is totally valid, but it will pass.
If you have loved ones that you can trust, seeking validation is NOT always a bad thing. Let them know how your feeling, and let them do what friends and family (are supposed to) do: reassure you that you have something magnificent to contribute to this world… because, ultimately, you do. We all do. But, if all you can accomplish today is being kind to yourself while you process your emotions (the good and the bad), that’s absolutely okay and you should recognize that you’re already taking the first step towards a more promising tomorrow.