Most of us spend half our time wishing we could go back to a happier time in our lives, or wanting a second chance at something. This is very human, especially in times of distress, but is it helpful? Absolutely not. It’s completely futile, focuses your attention and energy in the wrong direction, and leads to frustration and even more unhappiness, Not to mention missing out on the here and now.
This pull is especially strong when you are battling mental health issues. You look back longingly on the time when you were well and free, and all your energy and desire is on ‘getting back to normal’. It’s taken me 3 breakdowns to realise what a huge mistake this is. As soon as we recover, we rush back into living life the same way we did before, thinking that this is where safety and normality is. But what you forget, or don’t realise, is that the old reality is part of the reason you fell sick in the first place. Yes, clinical depression and other serious mental illnesses are very much biochemical, but your personality and the way you handle life factors in there as well. This is why therapy, counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, etc, are encouraged alongside medication. Changing your brain chemistry is almost never enough to prevent relapses. You have to change the way you handle life, the way you see yourself, the way you interact with others.
This is incredibly hard, because we don’t like to have our thought patterns challenged or altered – we developed them in the first place in order to give some structure and security and order to a potentially scary, chaotic world. Change can be terrifying. And not just for you personally – those around you may find it unsettling, irritating, or upsetting, when you change,and may resist it in a way that can bring conflict.
Nevertheless, if you want to build a more secure, settled, happy life, the only way is by challenging your current perceptions and attitudes, and figuring out which ones need to change. And then having the courage and determination to make the changes.
This is something that only you can figure out (and you may need professional help in doing so), but asking yourself whether any of these attitudes sound familiar might be a start:
- I have to be successful in whatever I undertake. If I’m not the best, I’m a failure.
- I must be approved of by everyone at all times. If not, that means there’s something wrong with me.
- My value as a person depends on what others think of me.
- If my partner (or parent, or child) doesn’t love me, I’m worthless and unlovable.
- I should be the perfect friend / parent / student / spouse / employee.
- I should never feel upset, tired, or sick; I should always be happy, calm, efficient, productive.
- It is best to give up my own interests in order to please other people.
- If I am to be a worthwhile person, I must be truly outstanding in at least one major respect.
- It is shameful for a person to display his weaknesses.