Don’t get up in your head about what the “experts”say.

Something I love about working with the overwhelming majority of people I work with is, they’re incredibly motivated. 

They WANT to understand what’s happening in their nervous system. They WANT to know what the research says about the best way to change. 

A lot of the people I’ve worked with have gone out of their way to do deep dives into both the research literature and the popular literature, including media coverage, related to what they’re struggling with— depression, trauma, ADHD, addiction. 

That level of motivation is awesome. 

I strongly believe that we don’t really get good at something unless we kind of make it our hobby. 

There is kind of a downside to doing that, though. 

When you go out of your way to read as much as you can about what you’re struggling with, particularly stuff written by “experts” on the subject, it’s easy to get certain ideas in your head that may or may not be helpful— but may be hard to shake. 

The reality is, no matter how many books by “experts” you read, most of them haven’t met you. 

They don’t know your history, they don’t know your learning style, they don’t know the progression of what you’re struggling with. 

They may have helpful things to say based on their years of experience…but we need to remember that doesn’t make what they say gospel truth for you. 

Research on a condition is necessarily impacted by the culture in which that research occurs and the demographics of both the researchers and the research subjects. 

Research is also impacted by the theoretical biases of the research team. 

Researchers very often tend to publish findings that both confirm their own biases, as well as conform to the conventional wisdom in the field. 

Keep in mind that research that is considered valid and valuable is what they call “peer reviewed;” that is, to get published, it has to be vetted and critiqued by others in the field. 

While that’s good for making sure that research is rigorous and thoughtful, it also means that research that bucks what most people in the field thinks, often has a harder time getting published. 

All of which is to say: yes, do your own research. Yes, read up on what’s happening to you. Yes, read up on what professionals and experts think is helpful for people in your position. 

But don’t let it get into your head. You’re you. The only “you” who has ever existed. Even if people have struggled with similar experiences, they’re STILL not you. 

In the end, we all have to craft our own recovery program. 

We can, and I believe should, listen to people who know more than we do, who have faced similar issues, who maybe have some credentials, and who are a little more objective than we are in our own head. 

But there’s no denying that we are the architect of our own recovery. 

It has to work for us. 

Not for the hundreds of people that may have participated in a research study with an expert. 

We shouldn’t be getting so invested in what “experts” have to say that we’re getting triggered or enraged by sentences in books. 

We need to always be ready to pivot to a different perspective or approach if something isn’t working— even if it used to work for us. 

We need to remember that as we recover, we change, our needs change, and very frequently that means we need to change how we’re approaching recovery. 

Yup, it can be complicated, and kinda messy, and it forces us to back the hell off of our confidence that “KNOW” much of anything for sure. 

I think we have to approach recovery with curiosity, and respect— and, God forbid, maybe even a little humor. 

It’s a long road. Don’t sweat the small stuff. 

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There’s this thing called “quality of life.”

The things that create a high quality of life for you, specifically, may or may not be the same things that anyone else needs to create a high quality of life for them. 

But: others will try hard to convince you that you NEED to do the same stuff THEY need to do, in order to create a high quality of life. 

It can mess with our heads. 

I’ll be the first to admit, my priorities may be al little different than other mental health care providers, in that I’m not into “health” or “wellness,” in the abstract, being the primary aim of mental health care. 

I want people to have a subjectively positive QUALITY OF LIFE, regardless of how that measures up to what the rest of the world thinks is “healthy.” 

It’s not necessarily that I think the world is WRONG about what constitutes “mental health.” 

The truth is, I think the mental health community does some things right, some things less right, and a lot of things…um…a whole lot less right when it comes to actual “health.” 

But the thing is, I don’t get to tell anybody else that MY version of “mental health” “SHOULD” be THEIRS. 

I don’t get to tell YOU that MY version of “mental health” should be YOURS. 

Which is good, because I don’t particularly care if you, or anyone, agrees with what I think is “mentally healthy.” 

I want you to like your life. 

I want you to want to live your life. 

I want you to feel good about who you are, what you do, the opportunities you have available. 

I want you to feel those good things without hurting other people. 

Beyond that, who the hell am I, or anyone else, to tell you what’s “healthy?” 

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t listen to others’ opinions. There are often people who care about us, whose opinions matter. I personally get a lot of value out of listening to others’ viewpoints about what is or isn’t “healthy.” 

The point I’m trying to make, though, is that we cannot live our lives obsessed with what OTHER people think is “healthy.” 

We can’t live our lives chasing what OTHER people consider the “perfect” relationship. 

We can’t live our lives working toward what OTHER people consider a “successful” career. 

There are things that substantively improve the quality of YOUR life, that make YOUR life worth living. Other people may or may not agree or even UNDERSTAND why we like the stuff we like, or why what motivates us motivates us. 

Doesn’t matter if they get it or not. They don’t have to live our lives. We do. 

Keep what others think and say in perspective. 

We can listen to them or not, take what they say seriously or not; but in the end, we have to remember that our life is about what WE want. Experiences and feelings WE value. Goals WE find meaningful. 

We all know people who are virtual SLAVES to the opinions of others. 

They truly think that, if they do everything right, maybe they can earn EVERYBODY’S approval— and maybe THIS will make them happy. 

Hey, I like it when people approve of me, too. Who doesn’t? 

But if we make that our standard for when we’re “allowed” to be happy, we’re surrendering a vital piece of power and autonomy. Don’t do it. 

You’re allowed to find value EXACTLY where you find it. 

You’re allowed to create a high quality of life in EXACTLY the ways that come natural to you. 

Yes, we have responsibilities to other people— but we also have responsibilities to ourselves. 

And that’s not selfish. That’s reality. 

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I didn’t tell.

When I was a kid, I didn’t tell anyone I was being sexually abused until years after it had happened— because I didn’t think it was a big deal. 

To hear “sexual abuse” described, you’d think it was this overtly traumatic, painful thing— and what I was experiencing did not feel traumatic or painful at the time. 

BECAUSE I didn’t feel like it was a huge deal, I figured that the abuse I was experiencing wasn’t the same thing as this apparently awful “sexual abuse”…so I kept my mouth shut. 

I didn’t want to make waves. 

My parents and the other kids already thought I was weird and an attention seeker, so I figured they would’t believe me, anyway. 

Besides, most of the attention I got, certainly from my peers at school, was negative— the times when I was being sexually abused were among the few times that i was being paid non-painful attention. Why would I want to give that up? 

Not to mention, if I told somebody, I assumed everybody would then look at me differently— specifically, that they’d look at me as someone who had been sexual with a man, and who hadn’t reacted with revulsion. I assumed this would be the first thing everybody would think about, when they thought of me…and I knew I didn’t want THAT. 

So I didn’t tell. Not for years. 

At school, they’d tell us that no adults should be sexual with kids, and no adults should ask us kids to keep secrets from other adults. Whenever they would lecture us about how bad sexual abuse was, I remembered feeling both guilty and alone— as if I had this dirty secret that, the longer I held on to it, the heavier and dirtier it got. 

It’s hard to separate out the factors that contributed to how unhappy I was as a kid. 

A certain amount of it was biology, certainly. There is depression and addiction on both sides of my family tree. 

A certain amount of it was the fact that I was a kid who was more intelligent than average, but who had undiagnosed ADHD— thus I was always struggling to follow through on academic tasks and “not living up to my potential,” and the prevailing hypothesis was that I was “lazy.” 

A certain amount of it was the negative feedback I was receiving daily from my environment. I didn’t get along well with my peers— and after awhile I developed social defenses that specifically made it difficult TO get along with my peers. 

And, along with those factors and others, was this secret I was carrying, about having been sexually abused by a grown man when I was a young kid. 

The reason I’m writing about this today is because sometimes I hear people blame themselves for not having been happier, or better adjusted as kids— for not having “tried harder” to fit in, for not asking for help, and specifically for not telling anyone they were being abused. 

When we’re kids and we’re going through a lot, we often literally don’t know what to do, where to go, who to tell.

It wasn’t your fault, any more than it was my fault. 

We were kids. We were overwhelmed, and unhappy, and had no idea what our options even were. 

Even if we COULD muster whatever we needed to muster to tell someone: would help have even been available to us? Maybe not. 

Yet, we often wind up blaming ourselves. Angry at ourselves. Down on ourselves. 

In my case, it only made sense to blame myself, because I was getting blamed for my “irresponsible” behavior anyway (much of which I now understand to have been heavily influenced by my difficulties with attention and emotional regulation). 

When we’re kids, we don’t know what we don’t know. 

Maybe the adults around us were doing their best, maybe they weren’t— but regardless, it wasn’t on us to know what to do and how to do it. 

Blaming the kid we once were for the pain we endured isn’t fair. 

If I’d known what to do to feel and function differently, I would have done so in a heartbeat. They may have called me “attention seeking,” but believe me: I did NOT want the kind of attention I was getting. 

As I write this, I’m aware of the sadness of the kid I once was. 

Easy does it, little guy. 

I’m here now. 

It wasn’t your fault. 

And you’re not gonna be left out there on your own ever again. 

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Sacrifice and Rebuilding.

Sometimes recovery asks us to essentially build a new life. 

To be, essentially, an entirely new person. 

That’s a tall order. It’s one of the reasons why a lot of people get so intimidated at the prospect of recovery. 

We don’t know if we can build a new life. And we’re not at all sure we can be a new person. 

What would that even look like? 

Sometimes we try to compromise. We think, you know what, even if some of the people and stations in my current life contributed significantly to my depression, addiction, or trauma, I think I can swing still being involved with them or having them in my life. I’ll figure it out!

…and then we get frustrated when we get sucked back into our old patterns. 

Let me spoil neuropsychology for you: our brains REALLY, REALLY like established patterns. 

When given the choice, our brains will ALWAYS prefer old patterns to new, unfamiliar, unpracticed ones. 

I WISH we could build a recovery, and still keep certain people and situations in our lives. But we can’t. 

But, you might be thinking, I know someone who DID that! They just MODERATED their use of a substance; they just CHANGED their relationship with their family member; they just SET SOME LIMITS with their coworkers. 

Good for them. They’re not you. 

We don’t know what we don’t know about other peoples’ situations or struggles. 

Don’t guesstimate what you can handle or what’s right for you, based on what you see of others’ journey. 

The truth is, sometimes entire relationships have to go. 

Sometimes entire work situations aren’t tenable. 

Sometimes the only contact we can handle, is no contact. 

Sometimes a substance or behavior can’t be part of our life, in any way. 

We are talking loss here, and our brain doesn’t like to process loss. We will tell ourselves almost anything to avoid losing things, people, or situations that we’re used to. We will lie to ourselves all day long to avoid certain kinds of loss. 

But we’re not just talking loss. We’re talking, specifically, sacrifice. 

Giving something up to gain something. 

Your recovery from depression, addiction, or trauma, is really, really important. Your life and functioning matters. 

You, as a person, matter. It’s not just a bullsh*t psychology meme. I am writing this because I believe that you, the human being reading this, make a difference in the world, and I want you to feel good and function well. 

Our recovery is important enough that it warrants certain sacrifices. 

Even some big sacrifices. 

I hear you. Building or rebuilding something, sometimes from scratch, is often scary and overwhelming and unfamiliar and it can really, really make us feel helpless and hopeless. 

But people do it. 

People choose recovery. 

They choose sacrifice. 

They build something different. Something sustainable. They build a life worth living, even from the ashes and rubble of what was their life. 

The people who do this are not superhuman. 

They’re just like you. 

You can do this. 

Do the hard thing. Stay in the game. Build something new. 

Then come find me, and tell me about it. 

Starting to develop a real sense of “self.”

How do we develop a strong, stable sense of self, when we were never given the space to really be our own person? 

Lots of people have the experience of growing up without the support necessary to really learn who they even are. 

When we’re young, we don’t have a strong sense of self. We look to others to determine what a human person even is. 

Over time, with the appropriate support, we individuate— we slowly evolve a sense of personal identity that is independent of our caregivers, our siblings, and our peers. 

We realize that we have perceptions, experiences, interests, and goals that are unique. We realize that we aren’t extensions of the people around us. 

In the best of all worlds, we’re encouraged to do this. We’re rewarded for doing this. 

With the right mentorship and support, we go on to build a sense of self that we value enough to protect and nurture. 

Thing is, a lot of us don’t get that support. 

A lot of us didn’t have the breathing room, let alone the mentorship and support, to develop a sense of self. 

Maybe we were even punished, in little or big ways, for becoming our own person. 

Becoming our own person as a kid is an intimidating thing. We don’t know how to do it. We need examples. We need encouragement. We need safety. 

And when we don’t get it, we often assume that it’s our fault. 

What’s wrong with us, we ask ourselves, that we didn’t get that support that we needed? 

Over time we often just decide we must not be “worthy” enough to be our own person. 

We must not be strong enough. We must not be smart enough. 

The truth of the matter, however, is that it has nothing to do with strength or intelligence; no matter how strong or smart we are, we can’t give OURSELVES what we need at that crucial developmental point. 

After all, we were just kids. 

How the hell were we supposed to know what was going on, or what we needed? 

We needed attentive, responsive adults to show us what to do. 

We didn’t need the adults around us to be perfect— but we did need them to be, well, adults. 

So we grow up without a strong, stable sense of self. And very often we blame ourselves. 

Fast forward to adulthood, when we have low self-esteem and a shaky sense of self— and a feeling of inferiority and guilt about the whole thing. 

Where do we even begin to put the pieces back together? 

We start with acknowledging that what we experienced was not our fault. 

The fact that we’re struggling now, as adults, is not evidence of inferiority or stupidity or weakness. 

We were dealt the hand we were dealt. We didn’t ask for any of it. 

All we can do is what we can do— start where we are, with what we have. 

Those examples of how to be a strong, stable individual? We can seek them out now. 

The mentorship we needed? We can see it out now. 

The developmental tasks that were on our plate then, are still on our plate now. They’re not going away, and there’s no skipping over them. 

So let’s get to work. 

Now is not then. 

Let’s do what we CAN do— now. 

Getting our brain to look ahead, not backward.

Redirecting our focus after we’ve taken a hit usually isn’t a matter of will. It’s a matter of skill. 

Most everybody I’ve ever worked with desperately WANTS to be able to redirect their attention from the painful thing that happened in the past, to the productive thing they can do now. 

But it takes more than just willpower. 

We have to actually know how to DO it. 

The thing about our focus is, it’s usually drawn to the strongest stimulus. 

Our focus gets drawn to loud things, shiny things, attractive things. 

It also gets drawn to sad things, infuriating things, threatening things, and grotesque things. 

Whatever is most stimulating, grabs our attention. 

(If, like me, you have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, your brain is so held hostage to these stimulating things that shifting your focus can be literally painful. I thought this was an overstatement until a psychiatrist called my attention to it, and it turns out to be literally true.) 

The problem with the last terrible thing to happen to us— or even terrible things that happened to us years ago— is that they are very stimulating. They’re emblazoned on our mind. 

If we screwed up, and we have a self-defeating belief structure that says “I ALWAYS SCREW UP WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME,” then our screw-ups hold our attention hostage as well. 

Focusing on the NEXT right thing— the thing we can do now, compared to the thing we can’t change because it’s in the past— isn’t as inherently stimulating or captivating as ruminating on the past, negative stuff. 

Our brain is wired for drama. 

Rebuilding isn’t dramatic. Usually it’s work. Often it’s boring. 

Especially if we have to start over from square one, it can be overwhelming and off-putting to think about. 

So OF COURSE our brain doesn’t want to focus on it. 

How do we overcome our brain’s reluctance to let go of the past, and focus on the next right thing? 

We have to coax it along. 

We have to learn to frame the next right thing as something that has the potential to feel good or be interesting. 

We have to visualize the next right thing making us feel 1% better. 

We have to talk to ourselves in a way that encourages us to look forward, not back. 

And more than anything, we need to gently, supportively redirect our focus forward, as many times as it takes. 

That’s where a lot of us get into trouble. 

We’re willing to redirect our focus once or twice— but more than that, and it starts to get old. 

The thing is, if we KEEP redirecting our focus from the unchangeable thing in our past, to the next realistic step we can take now, if we stay consistent with it, if we turn ourselves around EVERY SINGLE TIME we notice ourselves perseverating on the past…it’ll get easier. 

We’ll get better at it. 

In fact, we can make perseverating on the past our cue to refocus in the present, to identify the next right thing. 

In my own mind, I installed a music cue. When I feel my brain looking back on the past with chagrin, I play some movie music— the music that tells the audience the hero’s about to turn things around. 

I find it’s helpful to give my head a few quick shakes. To take a few breaths. To blink a few times— and come back to focus on the center of my chest. 

It used to be painful to have to go through all that just go get focused forward. 

Now it’s second nature. 

You can come up with your own ritual for looking forward. 

Just make sure you stay consistent and persistent with it. 

Your brain’s gonna try to stay stuck in the past, because that’s where it thinks color and drama exist. 

You need to use your imagination to convince it there’s color and drama— and victory— ahead. 

Why bother with recovery at all?

There is only one sane reason to be in recovery, to work on your emotional and behavioral struggles: to feel better. 

Not to please somebody else. Not because you “should.” 

The truth is, nobody HAS to be in recovery. 

Yeah, sometimes we’re pressured to work on our issues by an external situation— we want to keep our job, or we want to save a relationship, or we want to avoid a legal consequence. 

But the real reason any of those things are meaningful to us in the first place is because we want to feel good, and we want to avoid feeling bad. 

A lot of the stuff recovery asks of us is a huge pain in the ass. 

It asks us to not do stuff we want to do in the moment. 

It asks us to develop coping skills and tools that are often lame compared to what we REALLY want to do. 

Recovery asks us to set goals and make plans— and goal-setting and planning can often be intimidating or boring. 

When we get into recovery, some of the spontaneity is necessary sucked out of life. We have to think ahead, which we often don’t like to do— and we often kind of resent doing. 

Why bother with any of this “recovery” nonsense at all? 

There’s only one good reason: because working a recovery program will help us feel and function better. 

Feeling better has to be a realistic goal of recovery. 

If realistically feeling better isn’t on the table, recovery’s not gonna work. Our brain will reject it. 

Not only does feeling better have to be an explicit goal of recovery, the PATH to feeling better through our recovery plan has to be straightforward and believable. 

We can’t be like, “I’ll do all this stuff, change my behavior, direct my mental focus, make changes to my social circe and daily routines, and then…somehow…things will get better? I guess?” 

The stuff recovery asks of us is too difficult to NOT have a clear path to feeling better laid out. 

Then, when that path IS laid out, we need to remind ourselves, as many times as necessary, where that path will lead us. 

Recovery is not just about giving things up. It’s about gaining things we really want. 

Recovery is not just about working hard. It’s about enjoying— what a concept!— the rewards of our hard work. 

The temptation is going to be, when we’re designing and working a recovery program, to focus on all the things that need to change— which necessarily means focusing on a lot of work. 

In order to realistically recover from depression, anxiety, addiction, or trauma, we need to change a lot of our mental and behavioral habits— and those habits have been over rehearsed for a long time. 

We have literal grooves in our brain because we’ve been doing and thinking and feeling the same stuff, year after year, for decades. 

Changing our lives means changing our brain— and our brain does not WANT to change. 

Our brain specifically makes habit change painful, because it wants us to keep on keeping on. 

This is why recovery is such a pain. 

It’s also why we need to remember and focus on— intentionally, vividly, emphatically— the upside of why we are doing this. 

We need that new movie— the movie of what our better feeling, better functioning life will look and feel like— playing on the movie screen inside our head. 

We need to make that movie exciting and dramatic. 

We deserve to feel and function better. 

Which is why we deserve recovery. 

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Yup, we might be difficult to be close to. And?

I promise you: you won’t always be your best self. Neither am I. 

I mean, most of the time, we’ll try. You know, to be easy going and good natured and patient and kind. 

But…sometimes it’s just not gonna happen. 

We’re gonna be tired. We’re gonna be sore. We’re gonna be cranky. 

Sometimes we’re going to have limited emotional bandwidth due to something we’re dealing with. 

Sometimes we’ll be exhausted from having to repeatedly rein in our impulses and cravings. 

Sometimes we’ll be triggered by a person or situation, and before we know it we’ll be half down a rabbit hole of defensiveness or dissociation. 

Sometimes we’ll be under the influence of a substance. 

Any or all of these can contribute to us not being our “best self” for a moment or longer. 

I don’t list all these things as excuses for us not being the coolest, kindest versions of ourselves. They’re just realistic factors that help explain why we’re reacting to the world as we are. 

I know that I, personally, have been hard to like and hard to be close to sometimes. 

I know my ADHD has made me flake out on my friends and be an unreliable coworker in the past. it’s a bummer. 

I know my history of attachment trauma has made it difficult to be in romantic and sexual relationships with me. 

I know my depression has, likely, made me a bit of a bummer to be around sometimes. 

It can be really easy for us to take a look at our relationship struggles, many of which can stem from our personal history or our emotional challenges, and conclude that we’re just…broken. Unlikeable. Maybe even unlovable. 

Here’s the thing, though: we don’t get to decide for other people whether we are likable or lovable. 

And we definitely don’t get to define for the entire human species what defines a “worthwhile” person. 

Many of us have been in the position of wondering why some of the people in our lives stick with us, even in what should be our most unlikable moments. 

Sometimes we even get paranoid or skeptical about people who claim to be with us in the long haul— how can they POSSIBLY mean it, given that we are so frustrating to relate to? 

What we can’t see, this close up to the equation, is that we are MORE than our struggles. 

Even in relationships, we are MORE than even the very legitimate frustrations we can cause for our friends, partners, and colleagues. 

Yes, there may be a subset of people whose closeness to us is determined by the proportion of positive to negative experiences they have with us. Yes, we’re going to lose some people along the way— though we need to keep in mind that even “normal” relationships with “normal” people are often fleeting and fragile for various reasons. 

We need to remember that emotional struggles like depression and behavioral struggles like addiction loom INCREDIBLY large for us— sometimes they’re the only things that we can think about. 

But others aren’t in our head. They’re not as suffocated by those struggles as we are. 

Others can see what we bring to the table beyond our pain or our problems. 

Others can see potential that we often can’t. 

Make no mistake: not everyone is going to see us fairly, or accurately, or compassionately. 

But because we happen to hate ourselves doesn’t mean everyone is required to hate us too. 

Because we feel like giving up on ourselves doesn’t mean others are required to give up on us. 

So we’re not our best selves sometimes. maybe even often. Welcome to being human. 

We’re always responsible for our behavior. We can’t just blow it off and say, “eh, nobody’s perfect.” 

But we have to be realistic: our feelings about ourselves are not facts— and they don’t have to be shared by anybody else. 

Others get to love us, no matter how we feel about ourselves. 

Others get to like us, no matter how we feel about ourselves. 

And others get to value us, no matter how worthless we might feel. 

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Refuse to abandon yourself. No matter what.

Growing up, we are taught to abandon ourselves in lots of subtle ways. 

We’re taught to reject certain feelings.

We’re taught that certain thoughts and fantasies are “bad.” 

We’re taught that we are only acceptable or lovable if we conform to certain other people’s idea of what is acceptable and lovable. 

When we’re taught over and over again that we have to “earn” the right to be loved, it sets us up for a life time of self-judgment and self-abandonment…not because we’re intentionally trying to judge or abandon ourselves, but because that’s the only thing we know. 

When I tell people that they don’t have to “earn” the right to be loved, they really do look at me weird. 

Hell, people look at me weird when I tell them they don’t have to “earn” the right to exist. 

That’s how pervasive that particular belief is in our culture. 

Can you imagine telling a little baby that they have to “earn” the right to exist or the right to be loved? 

No matter what you have or haven’t achieved in your life, you are not a waste of space or oxygen. 

Who convinced us that we are only “worthy” to live if we happen to contribute specific things to the world? 

Don’t get me wrong: I like to feel that I’m contributing to the world. It feels good. I like to feel I’m making a difference in peoples’ lives. 

But I’m here to tell you that you are worthy no matter what you do or don’t contribute. 

We can contribute to other people and the world because it feels good— not because we’re trying to “earn” our “right” to consume space and oxygen. 

There was a time when I was too flat on my back depressed to contribute ANYTHING to ANYONE. 

These days I have more opportunities to contribute to people’s lives than I did back then— but is that to say the Glenn of 2021 is more “worthy” than the Glenn of 1997? 

The Glenn of 1997 would agree with that. 

The Glenn of 2021 does not. 

When we’re depressed, we very often feel unworthy. We very often fall into the trap of believing we haven’t “earned” the space we take up in the world. We feel like a waste of space. 

I promise you: you are not a waste of space. 

Do not reject and abandon yourself by telling yourself you are a waste of space, because it just ain’t true. 

We are not put here on this earth to achieve stuff. We’re not put here to live out anybody else’s fantasy about who and what we “should” be or do. 

Every single person reading this gets to decide WHY they’re here. 

Nobody reading this has to feel guilty that they didn’t live up to someone else’s standards of fantasies. 

I hear you: we all want to imagine certain people being proud of us, approving of us, liking us. 

I want that, too. It often feels good to live a life we can imagine certain people approving of.

When someone’s values are consistent with ours, living a life we imagine they’d approve of can be a signifier to us that we’re doing it right. 

It’s just really important that we don’t conflate something feeling GOOD with something being a signifier of our existential worth. 

We do not have to reject or abandon ourselves. 

We do not have to fall into the conditional worthiness trap. 

We can have our own back regardless of how we feel about ourselves at the moment. 

Yes, it’s hard. It’s MUCH easier to have our own back, to be compassionate toward and accepting of ourselves, when we feel that our lives are going well and to plan. 

But it’s when our lives AREN’T going so well that we really, really NEED to be there for ourselves. 

Self-esteem begins with refusing to reject or abandon ourselves— no matter what. 

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You get to choose who you are.

I strongly believe that we get to reinvent our life if we want to. 

Yes, significantly changing our life— including our appearance, priorities, the way we present to the world, our behavior, our living space, whatever— might impact other people…and those people, of course, have the right to have feelings about it. 

But no one gets to tell us we “have” to stay the same person with the same life just because they prefer it. 

One of the reasons a lot of people choose to NOT change is because we don’t want to deal with the blowback rom other people. 

Other people like us to keep being who we are. They want us to remain known quantities. being a known quantity makes it easier to predict and control our behavior. 

The thing is, when you don’t like who you are— what you look like, what you do, the situations and opportunities in your life, the people in your life— it doesn’t particularly matter if other people like who you are. 

We are in our skin, inside our head, 24/7. It really, really matters whether we like it in here. 

There are PLENTY of people who will tell you it DOESN’T matter if you like yourself or your life. 

Lots of people consider it not terribly important whether we “like” our experience, as long as we DO the things we’re “supposed” to do in life. 

But who gets to decide what we’re “supposed” to do? 

Yes, we have certain responsibilities. Parents shouldn’t just abandon their kids because they don’t “like” being parents (though there are obviously parents who do that). If we have a job, we have certain responsibilities to our employer that we agreed to. 

But in my experience, many people think that their responsibilities extend beyond the commitments they’ve made to people who depend on them, like children or employers or coworkers. 

Many people think they have a “responsibility” to continue being someone whose life they don’t enjoy living. 

I feel just the opposite. 

I feel we have a responsibility TO OURSELVES to create a life we actually DO like. 

I think pleasure, fun, enjoyment— those aren’t incidentals or luxuries. I think they are psychological needs. 

I think it IS our responsibility to figure out how we can incorporate positive emotional experiences into our lives in non-destructive ways. 

We have a responsibility to ourselves to create a life worth living. 

The truth is, our human experience is far more flexible than we think. 

We often think that we have to keep doing the same stuff, because we’ve BEEN doing the same stuff. 

We think we have to keep being the person we are, because that’s the person we’ve BEEN. 

It’s true that we OFTEN keep being the same person with the same life…but that’s mostly because the stuff we do is kind of sandblasted into our brain in the form of conditioned neural pathways. 

We can change not only what we do, but who we are…but it takes time. Those neural pathways are resistant to change, and it takes a minute. 

Changing who we are takes vision and consistency and patience. We’re often fighting an uphill battle against well-worn pathways in our brain and well-rehearsed routines in our life. 

But people change. People change their whole life, their whole identity. It happens every year, every day. 

I strongly feel it’s our birthright to choose who we are. 

Even if other people want to take that birthright away for their own comfort and convenience. 

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