Overcoming Depression by Lying to Myself

Dee Richards
5 min readNov 13, 2023

Let’s face it, there’s been a lot going on. Not only in the world, but in my personal world, as well. And I’m not the only one. I’ve heard so much about the upheavals in friends’ lives, and have to wonder if the butterfly effect might be unbalancing us all. Even those who do not share my views on what is taking place in Israel right now can’t say that it’s possible to ignore. Is it an emotional shockwave, of sorts? Or is it the emotional response to these actions is reinforcing negativity? I really can’t say. But, I do know that so many of us are having a hard time.

I spent two weeks barely sleeping. Why? Well, my initial understanding was that I was riddled with anxiety over my perceived failings. Though I am medicated for depression, I am not for anxiety, and I also require talk therapy (which I haven’t had) to deal with complex trauma. So, I stayed up at night with racing thoughts about what would happen if I didn’t get into a fully-funded MFA program. Would I ever get a job? Would I live out my dreams, or watch them melt away before me? Am I even young enough any more to have dreams? Where will we live when the housing market is skyrocketing? How will we afford living under this oppressive and unstoppable inflation? What about the kids who are dying? What can I do to change anything? WOW. Yeah, there’s a lot to occupy the mind. So, I didn’t sleep much.

Right before Halloween, I started having trouble sleeping. Now, I’ve had difficulty sleeping since I was a child (see: “complex trauma”) but this was different. I actually started feeling like I didn’t want to sleep. The world moves so quickly now that I’m older. I would lay perfectly still, meditating on my breath, and let the thoughts speed by like they were late for work. And oh boy were there A LOT of thoughts. I was actually dizzy from just trying to let them pass through me. I tried music, alternate sleeping arrangements, and different temperatures. It was on the day last week, where I stayed awake having a low-key panic attack until 4 am, that I decided it was time to try something new.

Yes, I got anxiety medicine, and it helped to a degree. However, the first couple of days didn’t seem to change much. Then, I did it. I lied to myself! Before I tell you the lie, let me say what I know about depression and anxiety, my 30 years frenemy. I know that depression says I’m a failure; my neurodiverse mind focuses on this summary judgment and finds proof to bolster this idea. My anxiety helps this process by obsessively worrying that it might be true — I might be a failure. Yeah, I just got 6 submission rejections, a workshop rejection, and got rejected from all institutions I applied to for an MFA earlier this year. My old therapist might have said: “Okay, but does that prove you’re a failure?” And my obsessing mind says: “Definitely.” She would have said that it only represented setbacks; that my eight publications so far, my awards, my GPA, and robust recommendation team this year prove the opposite.

I am not a failure, I’ve accomplished so much already, she would have said. But my 2 am mind says other truths: 6 of the 8 publications were with what are now defunct magazines; I haven’t had a new publication in over 2 years; I’ve been told more than once that my grammar needs a lot of work. This is sort of like only reading the 1-star Yelp reviews on a 4-star-overall-rated restaurant. However, my depressed/anxious mind also lies. It says that I cannot succeed if I don’t get picked by an MFA program (I have already been accepted at one, but for some reason that doesn’t count to my depressmind). This is patently untrue, as many writers can tell you. It also says the reason I can’t succeed is because I am too old. I know that Emily Dickinson was actually dead before she became the “mother of American poetry.” But, again, that doesn’t matter to my mind. My old therapist is only one, small voice in my mind that forms my self-opinion, and the vast majority are very negative (childhood trauma).

The cacophony of voices yelling my shortcomings sound like distorted versions of all of my abusers; they have the words of my mom or my exes, but they’re all in my voice, which continually overpowers my puny therapy messages. No, not always, but it is definitely an ongoing battle. That is what I know about depression and anxiety. It is a biblical snake anti-flattering me that I have such a keen understanding of myself to know what a waste of existence I am. *yawn* Having such a “keen” insight to myself is so exhausting that I can’t even sleep! So, I told myself a lie. The lie is: “I am trying my best.”

It seems silly to say that this is a lie. My incredible hard work has earned not only the aforementioned accolades, but also a nice-ish house, a decent 14-year romance, and two wacky but very happy kids. The snake with my mom/me voice really can’t argue that, because they are facts: I worked hard, and reaped the benefits of that work. The snake mom/me might say that they are flukes, but my tiny therapist/me says they are accomplishments. So, I have to find a middle ground between this Faustian angel and devil in order to make the lie believable by both sides. The lie is that I am trying my best.

Trying one’s best is the greatest story ever told. Terrible parents can say to their adult children: “Well, I tried my best” while dismissing their child’s traumatic experiences. “I tried my best and made it!” Can be shouted triumphantly when receiving an award. There is absolutely no commitment to a single course of action in “tried my best.” That’s the beauty of it, that you can do something and nothing all at once in this one proclamation. In that sense, “I tried my best” is a lie. Because I have tried my best to overcome depression and anxiety, and tried my best to sleep, and tried my best to get published. On my bad days, I can say I should appreciate how hard I’ve “tried,” on my good days, I can challenge myself to do better than my best. Either way, I’ve relieved the tension.

I’ve slept mostly okay for about a week, and I lie to myself every day. I say that I did a great job at school, that my bed is a sanctuary, that I am capable and a hard-worker. It’s a lie because my depression has lies that it tries to form into truths. I don’t really believe these things because that’s not really how depression works, it works by being so keen to my own failings. So, I lie to it, it lies to me, and I fight the battle. In the meantime, I get to sleep all night, living in this perpetual state of having no idea what is the objective truth. There probably isn’t one, anyway.

--

--

Dee Richards

Dee is a writer, parent & educator. Dee has a BA in English, with honors, from UC Irvine. Dee has 8 anthology pubs & 3 awards in CNF.