Self-acceptance is probably the single most powerful tool against depression. It was a precious gift that I learned from four years of deep depression in my early twenties and the counselling that got me out of it. When I started to accept myself for who I saw myself to be and started to forgive myself for what I perceived as my failings, the crushing darkness slowly started to lift.
Self-acceptance has been an invaluable tool since chronic illness hit too. It can be so tempting to blame ourselves for the things that may have contributed to triggering or exacerbating the illness. ‘If only I hadn’t pushed so hard’ ‘I should have looked after myself better’ ‘why didn’t I stop when I knew I was getting tired?’ etc. etc. When these thoughts come up, I know to forgive myself, to accept myself, to accept things how they are. I remind myself that I am unconditionally worthy and the feelings flow and pass.
Unfortunately though, knowing that self-acceptance helps isn’t always enough, sometimes it can be really hard to find.
Recently, after what seemed liked months of only just getting over one viral knock-back before getting another, I found my motivation had hit rock bottom. I was very accepting of low motivation during the viral crashes, as I know how much my brain chemistry is affected by those events. I would accept feeling low and just wait it out, aiming to make myself as comfortable as possible with pleasant distraction. However, when my motivation didn’t start to improve as my physical well-being started to improve, my self-criticism started to go unchecked.
I criticised myself for not wanting to get out of bed in the morning; I criticised myself for not being able to do even a fraction of all the things I usually do because I know how much they benefit my well-being. I’m the ME/CFS Self-Help Guru and I can’t even do my self-care basics? I’d found a little self-acceptance and self-compassion here and there, just enough to hold me afloat; keep me functioning, but the self-critical voice was gaining strength and momentum.
Then misfortune hit and I lost a regular income source that was keeping me financially afloat. All of a sudden, my self-criticism had another source to feed on. All these years I’ve put into trying to support myself financially by supporting others to live a life that they love and I’m still financially vulnerable. Now I could criticise myself for failing. Although I knew to keep challenging that language and point out how I hadn’t failed, the critical voice just chose not to listen, it stayed strong. Then I managed to combine the two criticisms. How could I possibly be a financially successful coach if I couldn’t even manage my basic self-care? I didn’t’ deserve to attract new clients. The stronger this self-criticism got, the more it sucked away my motivation. I fought, I tried to offer myself acceptance but I wasn’t really getting there.
Until I bared my soul to another and showed them my worst thoughts about myself.
It is so much easier to find self-acceptance when you allow someone to see you at your ugliest and they still accept you unconditionally. This is how I first learned self-acceptance nearly thirty years ago, from the unconditional acceptance of my counsellor. And this is how I’ve found it again, from the unconditional acceptance and support of two of my friends, who allowed me to breakdown and reveal my wretchedness.
With their acceptance, I’ve been able to accept my low motivation. I’ve been able to recognise it as temporary again, rather than the set-in stone fact of failure that my critical voice was insinuating. I’ve been able to find compassion for how difficult it is to stay motivated after one knock back after another, especially during winter when the simple pleasures of the outdoors are far less accessible. I’ve been able to recognise that it’s understandable to need to take time off. Even with something as important and self-care or when something is your life’s passion, you need to take a break from time to time. I’ve been able to accept that even a self-help guru is human, and if she wasn’t, what she had to share would be meaningless. We all have hard times; we all get down sometimes. The only reason that this time it got out of hard was that I didn’t accept myself. Self-acceptance was a tool that I temporarily forgot how to use.
Fortunately, I knew from experience that I had to be brave enough to show someone. However despicable I saw myself, I had to let another person see my darkness. I took the risk. I guess the risk wasn’t that great because I know from experience that there are people out there who will accept me, but it still felt like a risk.
The risk paid off: my self acceptance returned, my critical voice lost its power and my motivation is slowly picking back up.
I’m sharing this because I want you to know that there are people who will accept your darkness too, and when you take the risk to show yourself to them, it will pay off. When you feel yourself fully accepted by another it becomes so much easier to accept yourself. Self-acceptance is your power, it’s your lightsaber against those dark forces of depression!
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