Happy Saturday everyone!
This post is a more personal one. Some of you may relate to this, others may not. With so many big changes recently happening in my life, thoughts of insecurity and fear of the unknown have often come to my mind. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for many years and I’m no stranger to the insecure, self-defeating, negative internal dialogue that tends to pervade the thoughts of those struggling with these conditions.
Fortunately I’ve found ways to overcome these challenges, which I’d like to share with you. I also want to share my experience as I know it can often feel like you’re facing depression and/or anxiety all alone. You know there are others struggling but the experience can feel extremely unique to you, and you may feel isolated and as though no one can truly understand how you feel. I get it. I’ve been there too.
I used to be very insecure. I placed far too much value on my own appearance and developed a near obsession with maintaining control over all aspects of my life. While rigid control gave me a false perception of comfort, it was not until years later that I realized I was actually closing myself off from the world and from life. In the wake of challenges that life was presenting me, I’d forgotten how to live and how to enjoy life.
I suppose it was my pervasive need for control and my vanity that ultimately facilitated the development of an eating disorder. During that time I recall being very unhappy, anxious, and depressed. Then came my cancer; a stage IV tumor that had nearly engulfed by larynx (ie. voice box). I was on the path to an early grave within a few months. Fortunately, I survived the aggressive surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments and slowly my physical health began to return. However, now having no voice and the physical challenge presented by the tracheotomy, my insecurities and lack of confidence in myself became more pronounced than ever before.
Again I fell into depression and this time it was much worse. I remember feeling entirely hopeless, consumed with grief because I felt like I lost a part of me and that my situation would make it impossible to connect with others and achieve my ambitions in life. For many years I struggled with this. Trying slowly to pick up the pieces of my life and put them back together. To get back to who I was. But this wasn’t possible because having gone through these experiences how could I ever be the same person I was before it all happened? Looking back now I laugh because it seems so obvious to me that this was a pivotal event in my life that beckoned an opportunity for growth. However, at the time it felt like a black hole sucking me into darkness and I had little hope.
This went on for years, until finally I began to realize that I would never again be the Julie I was before and that I was in control of how I chose to let my circumstances affect me. I started putting the pieces of “me” back together, while adding the new pieces I’d gained in the years since. I learned to let go of that rigid need for control. I realized that there are far more important things than physical appearance. And I finally had to confront my anxieties and insecurities regarding my feelings of inadequacy.
I sought out alternative treatments, approaches, and experiences which opened me up to the world again. I found yoga and meditation very helpful in the healing process and read several books (“Happiness” by Matthieu Ricard was among the most influential for me). I’ve learned much about how diet and nutrition influence inflammation and how it can either enhance or minimize anxiety, and especially depression.
For instance, accumulating evidence suggests that inflammation is likely an underlying factor in depression, and that one’s gut microbiome and diet can have major impacts on the development and severity of depressive symptoms. I suppose this is one of the major reasons I’ve become so interested in nutrition and diet and seek to share this life-changing information and nutritious recipes with others.
Coming back to my discussion on insecurity, today I consider myself to be a pretty confident person and have worked hard to minimize my insecurities. But don’t get me wrong, many still lurk in the back of my mind and occasionally try to again gain control. When faced with a new challenge or endeavour I might find myself thinking things like “You’re smart and you’d be good at that, but how could you do it without your voice? You can’t”. However, my years of education in psychology have taught me how to recognize these negative thoughts, and I’ve developed strategies to stop them in their tracks and alter the content to reflect a more positive (and realistic) perspective.
When I begin to have negative thoughts telling me “I can’t” or “you’ll fail” or “they won’t like you”, I immediately challenge them in a way that allows me to alter the pervasive thoughts, followed by subsequent behavioural modification. This approach is a strategy used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
As an example, my internal dialogue might then go something like “Okay, if you “fail” what can be learned from this? What constitutes a “fail”? I then reason through my thoughts logically to challenge the negative and destructive cognitive patters. This allows me to view the situation in a more realistic way, altering my perception of the circumstances and facilitating a more positive approach to tackling any situation.
The main reason I wanted to share this post is to emphasize that we all have insecurities and lack confidence in a few or more areas of life. And this is completely okay! It is perfectly normal to feel doubt, particularly when you begin to tackle something new and push the boundaries of your comfort zone.
One thing I’ve learned more recently regarding pushing ones boundaries is that each time I step outside of my comfort zone, I grow tremendously as does the confidence I have in myself. At one time I’d have been terrified of traveling alone. Now having done it a few times I realize I actually quite enjoy the experience. I’ve learned to embrace the unknown and the uncontrollable.
I realize that building confidence and learning to be secure with oneself is both a process and a challenge, but it’s absolutely something you can achieve if you truly desire to do so. This is because confidence, and subsequent alleviation of insecurity, is something that you can learn once you have the appropriate tools to develop it!
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received on how to tackle insecurity and build confidence was actually from this TED talk based on scientific evidence that basically said: “fake it ‘til you make it”. And what do you know, it works!
Life is a journey and we’re not meant to know what’s coming. That was one of the toughest life lessons I’ve learned to accept (being a “recovered control-freak” and all hah). Presently, the thrill of adventure and exploring new places, the unknown, and meeting new people is something that drives me forward; seeking out new opportunities to travel and explore the many marvelous things this life has to offer.
Helping others brings me tremendous satisfaction and happiness, giving me a sense of purpose. By opening myself up to the world and to life, I’ve become passionate about fostering my own personal growth and helping others to do the same!
Until next time, wishing you health, happiness, and personal growth