The Language of Depression

I did it again.  I woke up disappointed in myself, and my progress this morning.  Fortunately these days are becoming fewer and far between, but these days still exist and I’m sure you can relate.  You were having a good day, a better than average day, and you think because you’ve had the handle on one day you can do something you know you probably shouldn’t do.  You stray from your routine and allow a little ‘treat’ from your former life in.  The ‘treat’ varies for all of us, for some it’s a beer or a glass of wine, junk food for dinner or maybe cigarettes that you promised to give up.  For others it’s staying up past a reasonable bed time to watch just one more episode on Netflix, or ignoring the reminders you’ve set on your phone because this time you’ll pass that level of Candy Crush.

Yup, we have all been there.  While I could get into recognizing what that is, addictions and distractions, that’s not my aim today.

Instead I’d like to focus in on the language I used this morning when I lay there nursing a pounding head and tired eyes.  I woke up disappointed in myself, and some of my very first thoughts were “why did I do that again?”, “serves me right to suffer, I know better”, “I’m the only one to blame”, etcetera, etcetera.  Sound familiar?  So this morning as I cursed myself for that one last beer (which was admittedly already two too many) and for staying up way later than I should to watch God knows what on Netflix, I had the most familiar feeling of all.  “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired”.

See that’s the thing, when we suffer from depression we choose to use negative and nasty language to represent everything in our lives.  We don’t do it consciously, and most don’t recognize that by doing it we perpetuate the cycle of depression.  Everyone has gotten lost in the negative self-talk spiral that seems to never end.  Whether you’re feeling a little blue today or you suffer from severe depression, there isn’t a single person who hasn’t spiraled.  We focus so much on everything wrong, using those negative words, that we lose site of the future, our visions, hopes and dreams.  Just look at the cloud below which is just some of the negative language used when discussing depression.

Not a pretty picture is it?  The truth is we need to learn to change our language.  We need to use language that conveys the future and what we do want for ourselves, not what we’re tired of putting up with.  For example instead of saying “I’m sick and tired of feeling sick and tired” how about we say “I WANT to feel good”.  I can hear you from here, well duh! We all WANT to feel good but pulling that rabbit out of the hat isn’t just that easy!  I understand, but look at some more examples and find the pattern:

Instead of saying…. Try saying….
I’m tired of being numb all the time I want my body to feel strong
I always do that to myself I will choose what is better for me
I’m sick of feeling like this I’m going to do better today
I shouldn’t have… It’s okay to make mistakes

We feed ourselves defeating language each day without a second thought.  Those words take a toll on our minds, on us as a whole.  The good news is that you can change the language of your life right now and it’s not a one shot deal.  Draw your focus from negative words such as tired, numb, always and sick, into forward looking positive words like want, will, going to, strong, better and okay. 

If maybe you can’t find the right forward thinking word, then perhaps you should look for the question that inspires you to look forward.  Questions that stop the negative self-talk spiral we all get caught up in, and challenge us into action and ownership of our life.

Instead of saying… Try saying…
They just don’t get it How can I help them to understand?
Serves me right or I know better Why did I stray from my path?
I’m to blame I am responsible for my happiness*

* I know the last one isn’t a question, you get the idea anyway.

By choosing to shape our language to reflect action we choose to take ownership.  It will feel a little uncomfortable at first, but be fair and honest with yourself.  You’ve been unconsciously using negative language for a while now, it’s bound to take some time to retrain yourself to choose your words and language more carefully.  Fortunately this is something that is easy and relatively painless to do.   Try it right now, say five positive words aloud.  Come on, I know you can do this!  Okay maybe you’d be more comfortable to write them down?  Either way you do you, there are no judgments here.  I’ll wait…


You survived didn’t you?  Maybe even made you smirk a bit?  So here are a couple of homework ideas for you.  Grab a pen and write down as many positive words as you can think of.  They don’t have to be emotions like good, happy or joy.  My positive words include sunshine, puppy, vegetables, adventure and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.  The last one because it’s just so much fun to say, thank you Mary Poppins.  Maybe you choose to start with five words today, that’s okay.  Hang that sheet of paper on the wall and each time you come up with a new word, add it.  If you just keep thinking the same word every day, write it down more than once.  Now pat yourself on the back for taking action in your life!

Now for a challenge.  You see we don’t just talk negatively to ourselves without thought, it’s also how we talk to others around us, and likely how the people in your life talk to you.  I don’t mean they tell you “you’re not good enough” or “you embarrass me”; maybe they do, and I’m sorry if that’s the case.  But how familiar are you with “you always do that”, “you never…”, “why can’t you…” and my personal favourite “just get over it”.  There is some truth to that last one, and we all know that we would if we could.  Guess what we can, and by reading this you know that it will take time but you can to.

Have a conversation with someone in your life about the action you’re taking right now.  You’re choosing to use better, stronger and more positive words in your life.  Give them some examples of what negative language looks like, and ask them to join you in your goal to use better language.  Understand that it is their choice and their choice alone whether to make this change, but having a conversation with them can and will get the ball rolling.  Like many people they probably don’t even realize they do it daily, to themselves, to you and many others. 

Homework idea #2 – Take your positive word list to the next level and play a game with them.  Time for a loosey goosey version of word association.  Say one positive word and let them come up with their own.  Back and forth that for a while, using only positive words and trying not to repeat the same word twice.  Again you don’t have to focus on emotions, just positive words, words that make you think of action and movement are always good.  Have some fun with that, relax and let your mind wander with the possibilities.  If someone throws in a word like stuck or bummed or sad, make them say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious three times fast, or just once if they’ve never even heard of it, and keep going.  This is something you can do with others anytime and anywhere, maybe you even use it as an icebreaker one day!

People don’t recognize that subconsciously their language contributes to your life.  Often those around us want to help, but struggle with how and get frustrated when they just can’t seem to do anything right to help you just be better.  Teach them how to treat you, help them to understand that while small, the language they choose to use can help you move forward.  Here’s a list to get things started…

Instead of saying… It would be great if you said something like…
“Are you going to spend all day in bed?” “Would you like to join me on a walk?”
“You’re always so moody”
or
“You never smile”
“Want to talk?”
“Why don’t you eat?” or
“You have to eat”
“Want to help me make dinner?”
“Would you just get over yourself” “What can I do for you today?” or even better “Can you help me with something?”

Instead of focusing on the negative or placing blame, using positive words and actionable ideas helps people to feel like they’re being supportive and supported.    We all know that when someone does something nice for us we feel better.  Think about mom bringing you chicken noodle soup when you had the flu as a kid, mom waiting on you in bed likely meant more than the soup.  Well here’s why part two of that example is even better.  Studies have shown that you doing something nice for others will make you happier and even make you like them more, go figure!  So a friend bringing you a cup of tea may seem great and you’ll appreciate it, but if you can find something that you can do for them it will have a greater impact on you.  You choose to take action, you choose to help others, and you choose to be positive and look outside of the spiral that is consistently in your head, if only for a little while.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote “The pen is mightier than the sword” in 1839.  His words still ring true today and while many of us don’t use pens anymore the truth is that language will never go away, and language is so much more than just words.  Starting with the rights words today though, that can mean changing the language of your life.

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