“Fake it until you make it”.
“If you forget your part, or lose your place, just fake it”.
That first statement is one that most everyone has heard. Not sure who to attribute it to. The second statement is something that our high school band director would advise us whenever we were participating in school symphonic band competitions. “What people always remember during a concert is the beginning and the ending. Have a strong opening and a strong close and in between, if you personally get messed up, just fake it until you can catch up”. Although, if you happened to be a soloist, that advice didn’t work so well. Hard to hide mistakes if you were the only one up there making noise.
People who are depressed are actually quite good at faking happiness and general “normalcy”. For whatever reasons, it feels like an adrenaline push to conceal the truth whenever out in public spaces. And it is EXHAUSTING. It’s probably much like how wounded and sick animals will try to hide themselves or behave as if everything is perfectly fine; they’re just, you know, taking it easy right now. Pet owners know this. It isn’t until your cat or dog is actually quite ill, or is not eating or drinking anymore, that you end up at the vets office where they inform you that something is urgent. “What?? But, he’s been acting like his usual self!” If animals could actually speak our language, maybe it would be different. But then again, mammals have an instinct to not appear weak or injured because other mammals tend to attack or shun each other when they behave that way. They tend to eat one another. And humans, after all, are mammals.
However, humans are different from other mammals in many other ways. We have a language that is incredibly nuanced, massively creative, endlessly evolving, and our language can do other things besides warn or beckon or comfort or express joy. Our language can actually affect our own brains, our own feelings, our own behavior and health. Our language can influence other human’s brains, feelings, behavior, health, attitudes.
When I was depressed, I couldn’t remember a time when I did not disgust myself; when I was not ashamed of myself; when I did not hate myself. The playlist in my head, which ran constantly included such hits as “I’m A Failure”, “I Can Never Do Anything Right”, “I Will Never Accomplish Anything”, “I Am Stupid”, “I Am Worthless”, “I Am Too Weird”, “I Don’t Belong Here”, “I Don’t Belong Anywhere”, “I Always Mess Up”, “I’m An Idiot”, “I’m A Fool”, “I Will Never Do Anything Right”, “I Hate Myself”, “I Am A Disgusting Mess”, “Everyone Thinks So Too”…..and so many more! OH SO MANY VARIATIONS!
The psychologist who managed to change things for me made me do something on our very first visit. It was after my last episode of feeling suicidal – and it was one of my worst episodes. It was during my first visit with her after getting a reference from my psychiatrist (and after starting back up on a new anti-depressant). After acknowledging with great sympathy just how broken and shitty I was feeling, she made me do something, which she laughingly told me was “going to feel really stupid and really silly and really corny right now and it’s something no one likes to do”. She made me say out loud, “I am wonderful”. I shot her a look. “We aren’t going anywhere or talking at all until you say it”. Then she made me say it again with a little more conviction. I started crying. She handed me a box of tissue with an encouraging nod and an even more sympathetic face. Then she told me to say, “I love myself!”. I indicated that I just really couldn’t fathom uttering those words and she said, “It doesn’t matter if you actually feel it right now, just say it out loud. Say it because it is perfectly fine to say it!…Let me tell you, I love myself! That’s right! And I’m proud of it! It’s okay to love yourself! It doesn’t mean you think that you are perfect. NO ONE is perfect. We all have our issues and our flaws….and it’s okay to love ourselves anyway!”
So I did. With a huge eye roll.
So she made me do it again without the huge eye roll.
“Okay. Now we can begin to get you feeling better…. because you deserve to.”
Basically (and she acknowledges this) it was a form of “fake it ’til you make it” therapy.
And I have to begrudgingly admit that it works.
It’s not like I don’t still get mad at myself, or even have some suicide ideation anymore, but I’ve come to recognize exactly when something has managed to hit the high volume button on those old tunes.
Breaking those 24/7 recordings in your head of all the stuff you hate about yourself and replacing them with soundtracks of kindness and love towards yourself is crucial to being able to get better. You have to think of yourself as a friend or family member that you love dearly and don’t want to lose. Would you EVER say those nasty things to them? Of course not! Would you EVER believe those things about them? NO. And you know exactly why you would never say or think those things about that person? Yes. You do. It’s because you LOVE THEM. You love them despite whatever quirks or issues they have. And EVERYONE in this world has quirks and issues and flaws and mistakes. You do not have to be flawless to be loved. You do not have to be flawless to exist. You can love your own self.
A lot of depression has to do with chemistry. I happen to know that well. A lot of it also has to do with language; namely, the language you use with yourself. If you can beat yourself down into a pulp with negative language in your head, it stands to reason that you can help to heal yourself with language too. If you can fake happy language outwardly to other people, why the hell not fake it to yourself? The only difference is that instead of deceiving other people to make them feel okay, you can change the way you think of yourself in order to actually crawl out of the hold that depression has on you. And that is worth doing.
It’s hard work because it involves breaking lifelong habits. But it isn’t impossible.