it’s not about self-esteem

Usually, I post here about pleasure, because…well, because yummy and awesome and so useful.  Because pleasure makes us clear and whole; because pleasure gives us direction; because pleasure makes the difference between drudgery and service, between weariness and joy.


There’s more to life, and this has been bugging me for a while.

I have depression.  It was in remission for about 2 years, but recently it has been back (in spades) (and very unpredictably).

As in previous episodes of depression, the well-meaning advice has come pouring in: you need to focus on yourself more, get out more, get exercise, have you seen a therapist? maybe you should make some new friends, learn a new skill, just eat better, take a supplement, take a pill, get a hobby…

and really, at root, you need to love yourself  first.


With all due respect.

I do love myself.  I didn’t, for years, but I do now.  My self-esteem is really quite solid.  When my brain is working properly, I know I’m smart.  I know I’m skilled.  I know I’m well-trained and that my work makes a difference to the people I work with.  I know I have incredible capacity to see systems for what’s really going on and help their leaders adjust so they waste less energy on the way to their goals.  I know I see people’s current realities and the potential they have.  I know holding the vision of that potential and helping people plan to fulfill it makes a difference to them and to the world.

I know that. I know I learn fast.  I know my love is incredibly strong.  I know.


I have depression.  It’s like having a cold in my brain.

When the depression is active, it takes over the circuits that relate to how I see myself in the world.  It’s like an alien mind control game.  What I know when I’m not having a depressive episode is NO LONGER RELEVANT.

Using the cold metaphor: my nose is stuffed up.  I can’t use it to breathe.  This doesn’t mean I need a new nose or that I never had one.  It means the mechanisms that let me breathe are obstructed.

In real terms this means that I can’t access my brain’s pleasure mechanisms.  They are still there (although they can atrophy over time–use it or lose it!) but I can’t use them.  The circuits are circumvented or shut off.  The less use they get the harder it is, but they can also be rebuilt with time and practice and sometimes medical or diet or exercise help.

So back to self-esteem and self-love: if you or someone you love has depression, self-esteem MAY be the problem, or it may not.  But you cannot assume that just because a depressed person says hateful things about themselves when they are experiencing a depressive episode that they actually believe those things when their brain is their own.

If you have depression, ask yourself, honestly, when you’re not having an acute episode:

– am I smart?

– am I capable?

– am I loveable?

– am I interesting?

– am I strong?

– am I creative?

If you kinda think mostly yes, then I’m going to go ahead and say that while you HAVE DEPRESSION your self-esteem is just fine.  What you need then are tools to not listen to the depression when it mounts a hostile takeover in your head.  That’s a different set of tools than changing how you feel.

You wouldn’t send someone with a stuffy nose to a reconstructive surgeon.

Just saying.

I’m @leelasinha on twitter.  Find me there and let’s talk!