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Beyond Blue

On Fridays I will address a question related to depression and find the answer from an expert. If you have a question you want answered, please ask it on the combox of this post, and I’ll try my best to do some research and feature it in an upcoming Friday post.

On the combox of my post, “Video: My Self-Esteem File,” Beyond Blue reader Cathy Vern wrote this:

How have you applied all this self-esteem to enrich your life? Have you accomplished things you couldn’t even think of accomplishing before? I would like more on how this made you better, or how your life proceeded to bring you things you felt that you couldn’t do before.

I have been thinking about those questions the last month because I was somewhat forced to create a second self-esteem file three weeks ago. A former high school teacher, one who helped me get sober when I was a senior, learned about my writing, and what I’ve been up to lately, and he nominated me as a candidate for my high school hall of fame.

That was the easy part.

The hard part was begging friends, family members, and former professors to compose a brief letter of recommendation. Confession: even though I am the queen of the “self-esteem file” project, I have never felt comfortable soliciting a warm fuzzy. Only when my therapist assigned me that task three years ago–when I was suicidal-did I request such letters.

The result, once again–like three years ago–astounded me. I forgot how much power those letters, those sentiments have in boosting your self-confidence, your self-acceptance, and your self-esteem.

Among my jewels, were these statements:

  • She is a child of God whose focus and emphasis has been to give back and help others. –John M. Guenin, my stepfather
  • Therese is well-known for a sense of gratitude that she expresses fervently and frequently to anyone who has benefitted her in even the smallest way. –Keith J. Egan, former professor
  • The courage Therese displays in sharing her personal journey is a daily inspiration to her readers, and to me. –Holly Lebowitz Rossi, my editor at Beliefnet
  • She is sweet and kind. –Eric Borchard, my husband
  • I can count on her to be there for me although we are almost 1,000 miles away from each other. –Christy Johnson, my sister

I have stapled them together and have been carrying them in my work bag as a kind of security blanket when the negative thoughts attack, which is about every seven seconds.

They are my allies in my war against self-hatred and self-defeat.

For example, one morning last week I was talking with a woman I don’t know all that well, and the topic of mental health came up. She is one of those anyone-who-has-to-use-medication-to-pull-themselves-out-of-anxiety-is weak-and-pathetic types. I cringed as I listened to her condescending statements. I didn’t know how to defend myself. So I left the conversation, fighting the voices: She is right. You are pathetic. She is right … You are so weak.

I brought this up in therapy the day after.

“Why do these thoughts and statements still have so much power over me?” I asked my therapist.

Then I told her about some of the warm fuzzies I had received in my letters of recommendation.

“Next time, you find yourself listening to those voices of self-doubt, direct the thoughts to one of your letters as a way of defending yourself,” she said.

The next time (10 seconds later), my thoughts started to repeat what the woman said: Weak, you are so weak, I immediately shouted, “Keith!” the former professor who said that not only was I a strong person, but that he was “very proud to have walked in my life even a little way as one of my teachers and friends.” 

It worked!

Eight second later, when I heard the usual criticism, You are so self-absorbed, I yelled “John!” That’s my stepdad who wrote an unexpected and touching letter about how I had “become vulnerable so to help others.” Nothing in the letter like “totally self-absorbed.”

So, to answer your question, Cathy, How has my self-esteem file made me into a better person? Well, I don’t know. But this I do know: Those letters help me fight so many of the voices that are guilty in dragging me into a dangerous state that can lead to a crippling depression.

I guess in thinking more about it, I’d say my self-esteem file plays defense, which allows me to play offense: to risk a little more, to write without the constant restraint of self-doubts, and to let me concentrate a little more on the present because the file has got the voices of the future and of the past in a half-nelson.

I’d love to hear from you, readers. What has your self-esteem file done for you?

To read more Beyond Blue, go to www.beliefnet.com/beyondblue, and to get to Group Beyond Blue, a support group at Beliefnet Community, click here.

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