I've thought of my self-hatred/depression in many different ways over the years.
I've envisioned it as a cloud, a rain storm, a sadistic woman with white hair and a wide smile. I had a nightmare once where it manifested as a mental asylum with deformed inmates shackled to walls. I watched myself in the dream, as if from a CCTV camera, pounding on a door to the institution with my fists. All the while I screamed 'Why won't you let me leave!'
Yet until a few weeks ago I had never thought of it as a victim. An enemy? yes; a terrible force of nature? For sure.
But I had never tried to truly humanize the struggle inside me not until I tried to emerge from my longest and darkest bout in many years.
In mid May, I got back to Kansas City after spending a few weeks on the road. I saw family in Ohio and reconnected with a number of friends in DC. While traveling I released my first self-published book on Amazon and by the time I got home, over thirty people had bought copies.
The trip and the sales made me feel great but within the first week of being back familiar feelings of anger and self-deprecation appeared.
An onslaught of negativity began inside me. It was so relentless that for days I was unable to leave my bed for very long.
I stayed up late until the night unable to find respite from the voice that once again tried to strangle me from the inside.
For almost every minute, of every day for four weeks I was in the grip of thoughts like these:
'You don't matter! Nothing you've ever done has mattered!'
'You've wasted your life!'
'You've done nothing important!'
'You should have killed yourself years ago!'
'You have no talent!'
'Everyone is better than you and they always have been!'
'You are a sack of shit! You should set yourself on fire!'
'No one can love you!'
And on, and on, and on it went.
Eventually, I reached out to the wider world. The kind words of friends near and far gave me space to breathe. While I still suffered daily I had room enough inside my head to truly think and address my demon.
I started to take steps to strengthen myself. I downloaded a book on depression and anxiety. I started exercising again and taking my Zoloft regularly. I poured over articles about self-hatred and depression. I read and reread blog-posts, psych articles and Tiny Buddha entries hoping that I could find something that could bring me out of the dark.
I discovered helpful information and testimonials.
None were silver bullets but it was in the midst of scouring this information that I came to see my battered soul and the destructive voice of self-hatred in a new way.
It came to me late one night after reading an article that talked about how hateful inner voices often say things to us that we would never dream of saying to others. Often, we treat ourselves worse than we treat those around us.
I thought: What if I gave a human shape to my beleaguered soul?
My imagination kicked in. I gave my inner self hair, eyes, ears, a nose, a mouth and a bruised and cut body. I saw my battered, injured soul as a person. A tortured individual who had been locked away and attacked for years within me.
In my imagination, I saw myself walk to this poor man's cell, unlock his door unfasten his shackles and embrace him.
'I'm sorry,' I told him. 'I should have come for you sooner.'
I now had a face and a body for my pain and I had a new way of seeing what had been going on within me for years.
Now, when I feel a surge of negative emotions coming on I turn to the nearest empty chair or space and visualize my hurt self in that emptiness. In my mind, I ask if he is alright and if he needs anything. I treat him as a friend in need.
I've been coping better with self-hatred by envisioning my inner self as a beaten and maimed person who needs to be nurtured and healed.
I've also come to see the part that hates me as another tragic figure.
An enemy? Perhaps, but a wounded enemy acting out of uncertainty, doubt and lack of confidence. I am wary of him but I do not hate him. I can't allow myself too.
He is me. I am him. In my experience, hating ones own self-hatred does nothing but empower it.
Sometimes, when I hear him attacking my long suffering self, I tell him firmly to stop. I explain to him that he has no place here and tell him that while I am obliged to stop him I won't allow myself to despise him as I used to.
This is usually enough for him to leave us alone and he departs with his head hung low.
Since I've adopted this approach, my world has become considerably brighter. My wounded soul is bruised still but his cuts have closed. He's scarred but he smiles more and the hateful self has not been able to shackle him again.
I have no doubt the darkness will come again but the next time he decides to try and dig his claws in I won't be alone and my soul will be more prepared to endure.
If you read this, and you feel that you are in a similar struggle I hope my words provide insight and comfort. You may not believe it now, but you are not alone. There are many, many others who experience your pain and there is will inside you to live and thrive.
Get help, talk to someone call a hotline. There is a way to pull out the black claws from your heart.
There is a way to heal.
Deep down there is precious jewel inside you. It may be caked in the filth of self-loathing and self-doubt but it is hard and glimmers waiting for you to dig it out.