sticking up for yourself

When You're Depressed, Do You Feel Ugly?

John Folk-Williams Community Member September 10, 2009
  • Quite a while back, there was a TV series about a group of nurses in the Vietnam War. It was called China Beach. In one episode of this powerful drama, a soldier who had lost a leg from the knee down is back home, feeling lost and depressed about his life. Desperate for a loving human bond, he drives a great distance to find the home of one of the nurses who’d taken care of him “in country.”


    He finds her and talks stumblingly about his hopes to be with her, and it’s clear he feels like an ugly reject whom no one will have anything to do with. She sees at once that what he’s looking for is an emotional crutch, not a real relationship and gently explains that she can’t be with him. Then she does something amazing. Understanding what he feels about himself, she wants to give him the one message above all that he needs to hear and believe.


    Taking him into a room with a full-length mirror, she tells him to stand in front of it and to take off all his clothes. He does that numbly, mechanically, revealing what’s left of his leg, and she tells him to really look at himself, not just the leg. Then she says, in so heartfelt a way:


    “You are beautiful.”


    Whenever lost in deep depression, I could never even hear, let alone accept a statement like that. I felt ugly inside and out, certain that everyone could see that obvious fact. I winced if anyone pointed a camera at me, especially if they asked me to do the impossible and smile. What I wanted to do was disappear. I couldn’t bear to look at a picture of myself - if I did, I just saw this ugly, overweight mess and wanted to rip it up.


    I remember the story of another depressed Vietnam veteran whose struggle with PTSD was featured in a documentary film. In one scene, he was showing the interviewer around his small apartment and stopped by his bed. He said that he often needed to get into it during the day (acting this out as he spoke), reach down for the blanket, and “pull it up - over - my - head. Now, I’m invisible.” That was exactly what I felt so often, and here I could see how terrible it was - to hide your spirit away when you need it most.


    It gets that bad when the voice of depression seems like your own, and the beliefs it puts into you are as real as anything in life. I never limited that conviction just to me, but I projected the ugliness onto the physical things I owned - especially around my home. I could only see the shortcomings, the disorder, the mess, and I had to clean it up, improve it with a furious energy to keep it all - and myself - from complete disintegration.

     

    Once in a group therapy session, sitting in a circle of people, all of us in different ways ashamed of who we were, someone mentioned in passing, quite matter-of-factly, that I was handsome. I literally turned around to see who he could be talking about. Then I asked him, “Are you talking about me?” - as if to say, “Man, you really and truly need an eye exam.” Others tried to reassure me, and it was clear that they weren't just talking about looks - it was about an inner quality they could see that I could never imagine - a kind of beauty. I just thought - OK, this is a group and everyone affirms everyone else so we’ll all feel better. New Age BS! Nevertheless, I felt close to tears and couldn’t get another word out.


  • Looking back, I think that was the first time I started to question all those depressed beliefs about being a mess, inside and out - doing everything wrong, judged by all the people around me, and on and on. Gradually, I started thinking - Well, maybe all that stuff I keep repeating about how bad I am in every conceivable way is partly depressive thinking - at least a little bit of it.


    It took many years for me to see how pervasive depressed thinking was and how convincingly it twisted my mental self-portrait. A lot more of those years went by before a recovery I could hardly imagine finally happened - though I can't say exactly why or how

     

    These days, I can go outside in the sun and see how beautiful everything around me is. And I can think, I am a part of all this, and I don’t have to listen to what depression is saying. That voice used to be the loudest sound in my mind, but now it’s an occasional nuisance that I know how to get rid of.


    Getting better started with that glimmer of doubt about all the negative beliefs and a reminder that there was something still there that others could see, even if I couldn't.


    So I’ll say it to you, even if you can’t believe it, because it’s true, really true.

    You are so beautiful.

14 Comments
  • Merely Me
    Health Guide
    Sep. 10, 2009

    Hi John!

     

    This is a message that so many of us who have depression need to hear if we allow ourselves to listen.  I can totally relate to what you are saying....when you are depressed it is like...the self hatred seeps right into your skin.  The depression robs you of any light to see what is really true. 

     

    There are certain expressions...

    RHMLucky777

    Read More

    Hi John!

     

    This is a message that so many of us who have depression need to hear if we allow ourselves to listen.  I can totally relate to what you are saying....when you are depressed it is like...the self hatred seeps right into your skin.  The depression robs you of any light to see what is really true. 

     

    There are certain expressions that...are especially painful during a depression...such as "you are beautiful" but more so for me...that I am loved.  During a very dark time I went for a walk with one of my best friends and...she told me things like...that I am a beautiful soul...and very loved and it hurt so deeply...I just wanted to reject it so much because I could not feel this way about myself.  I sobbed. 

     

    How did you make that transition to listen?  How does one feel beautiful inside and out? 

     

    Your writing is very hopeful and encouraging as always.  Thank you for writing this...I hope that whoever needs this message will hear it tonight.

    • John Folk-Williams
      Sep. 12, 2009

      Thank you, Merely Me -

       

      I'm sorry you know so well what I'm talking about. It's true these statements can hurt as well as pass by unheard. Once I tried to remind a close friend about my loving feelings as a friend - she was in a terrible state and became enraged. That kind of reaction occurs, I think, with people who are not yet open with themselves about...

      RHMLucky777

      Read More

      Thank you, Merely Me -

       

      I'm sorry you know so well what I'm talking about. It's true these statements can hurt as well as pass by unheard. Once I tried to remind a close friend about my loving feelings as a friend - she was in a terrible state and became enraged. That kind of reaction occurs, I think, with people who are not yet open with themselves about depression - talking about love can seem like a demand they resent. (I do know about that, unfortunately.)

       

      When said too bluntly, I think these statements of affection and love can sound like another way of trying to fix a loved one - trying to get them out of depression by talking. That's always a bad idea, no matter how genuine the underlying feeling.

       

      What a mess this illness is!

       

      John

  • Kyle
    Mar. 16, 2011

    I have always had a sort of bad self image but when I was younger it didn't matter much to me. Then when the depression really hit I was downright at war with myself. It left me with some good habits but some really bad memories. I still feel unease now and then but it's nothing like it was a few months ago.

  • Anonymous
    Anonymous
    Sep. 21, 2009

    I am the female partner of a depressed man who tells me that on occassion he hates looking at himself in the mirror and it pains me every time.  He is a very handsome man and a beautiful person but most times he doesn't see it.  It's his depression that takes over him and I can see him fighting it with all he has...medication,...

    RHMLucky777

    Read More

    I am the female partner of a depressed man who tells me that on occassion he hates looking at himself in the mirror and it pains me every time.  He is a very handsome man and a beautiful person but most times he doesn't see it.  It's his depression that takes over him and I can see him fighting it with all he has...medication, therapy, meditation, diet, etc etc.  I have tried to reassure him but as you mentioned, it bounces off of him and doesn't resonate.  After a while, I feel like he may resent me for trying to make him feel better. Thank you for your post. It has shed some light for me in understanding what he is battling.

    • John Folk-Williams
      Sep. 24, 2009

      Hi, Anonymous -

       

      I'm glad the post was helpful. It's good to hear that your partner is fighting depression so hard. It's terribly hard to get rid of it permanently, but using all the available tools helps in fighting back and getting relief from the worst extremes.

       

      The sad truth is - as I'm sure you know - that neither you nor anyone else can make...

      RHMLucky777

      Read More

      Hi, Anonymous -

       

      I'm glad the post was helpful. It's good to hear that your partner is fighting depression so hard. It's terribly hard to get rid of it permanently, but using all the available tools helps in fighting back and getting relief from the worst extremes.

       

      The sad truth is - as I'm sure you know - that neither you nor anyone else can make him get better. That's something I've blogged about on my site (Storied Mind), and I'll return to that subject here.

       

      I wish you well - I know what a strain depression is for both of you.

       

      My best  --

       

      John

  • LyraStorm
    Sep. 11, 2009

    First and foremost I need to say 'thank you' for the beautiful comment - I'm trying to teach myself how to take a compliment. For some time I was something like you - I thought it was all about the person saying it, not me. For some years I'm pretty sure no one said any compliments at all, or if they did I didn't register them. It makes it hard because your...

    RHMLucky777

    Read More

    First and foremost I need to say 'thank you' for the beautiful comment - I'm trying to teach myself how to take a compliment. For some time I was something like you - I thought it was all about the person saying it, not me. For some years I'm pretty sure no one said any compliments at all, or if they did I didn't register them. It makes it hard because your inner voice is saying you're ugly (in all sorts of ways) and no one contradicts it (and at times confirms it).

     

    Like you over time I've learnt to see I'm not as bad as I thought I was... I mean I'm not where you are but I'm a little better at it... I think I'm still a work in progress. Smile Still I no longer see myself as something repellent. Honestly for many years I'd actually feel physically sick when I saw my visage in the mirror and would make myself look at it as punishment. When someone said I might be pretty (a word I actually still hate to hear - it makes me think of pink, flowery... all the things I'm not) or something similar I thought it was all about them trying to be polite, struggling to find something nice to say to me, that sort of jazz... or even worse it was a set up for a joke. Then I got to a stage where I kind of believed what the person was saying when they complimented me but it hurt so much it made me cry - I so wasn't used to hearing it let alone considering believing it and would much rather have heard an insult cause that was what I had standard reactions ready for - it's what I was prepared for.

     

    This is a really well written post and I can totally relate and I just want to say thanks.

    • rose martin
      Sep. 11, 2009

      Dear John, thank you for your wondrous post. Such is your writing, I could feel the anticipation of that veteran driving to meet the nurse, the carer of his dreams.

      I always felt too that anything said in a Group session was BS to make each other feel better. We were asked to look to the left and say something we found nice about the other person, the man said,'youre...

      RHMLucky777

      Read More

      Dear John, thank you for your wondrous post. Such is your writing, I could feel the anticipation of that veteran driving to meet the nurse, the carer of his dreams.

      I always felt too that anything said in a Group session was BS to make each other feel better. We were asked to look to the left and say something we found nice about the other person, the man said,'youre warm and beautiful' I felt embarrassed and humiliated and that this kind man was being condescending and BS-ing me in order to 'help' I sobbed and sobbed.  The little child within still thinks Im overweight, saggy, ugly, a loser, the rational woman says 'youre a survivor, a warrior, good looking , wearing well, strong,warm, intuitive. Depressions storm blows the thought patterns around like a tornado and Distorted thinking is very strong.

      Handsome to me has never been features in perect symmetry or huge eyes and a perfectly toned jawline and high cheekbones. People eminate beauty, its the light in their eyes, the curve of their mouth, an aura, it transcends bumps and crooked noses and double chins, in both men and women.. and even in animals. 

      John I think it is impossible to really really love oneself and be depressed at the same time.

    • John Folk-Williams
      Sep. 12, 2009

      Hi, Rose -

       

      Thanks for your kind words - I'm always grateful, and surprised, when something gets through to another depression survivor. I'm glad you've got those two voices you hear these days - it's a lot better than just the twisted one. You have such a beautiful way of describing things - esp about what depression does and also the beauty you can...

      RHMLucky777

      Read More

      Hi, Rose -

       

      Thanks for your kind words - I'm always grateful, and surprised, when something gets through to another depression survivor. I'm glad you've got those two voices you hear these days - it's a lot better than just the twisted one. You have such a beautiful way of describing things - esp about what depression does and also the beauty you can see in life. Strange, we can grasp that about other people while exempting ourselves from the ranks of those beautiful human creatures.

       

      You're so right that no one can be depressed and self-loving at the same time - but, you know, I don't really get the loving oneself thing. The reason the remark about beauty moves me so much is that it's hidden away and denied so much of the time. We keep defacing and kicking at it to make it go away because it can't - it shouldn't - be true of us. That's so tragic.

       

      My best to you -

       

      John

    • John Folk-Williams
      Sep. 12, 2009

      Thanks, LyraStorm, for those kind words -

       

      That's a familiar evolution you describe - I remember all too well either never hearing or immediately putting out of memory anyone's words about love. Sometimes, my wife would tell me that so-and-so said to my face how much she loved me in deep friendship and wanted to help, if she could. When was that? I'd...

      RHMLucky777

      Read More

      Thanks, LyraStorm, for those kind words -

       

      That's a familiar evolution you describe - I remember all too well either never hearing or immediately putting out of memory anyone's words about love. Sometimes, my wife would tell me that so-and-so said to my face how much she loved me in deep friendship and wanted to help, if she could. When was that? I'd say - She was here? And the belief about being repellant - ouch! - I still have to catch myself going there from time to time.

       

      We are all works in progress! And I've been at for a lot longer than you have. It's weird to think that much of my life has been all about this struggle with depression - and learning about life the hard, hard way.

       

      All my best to you -

       

      John

  • Tinymight48
    Sep. 11, 2009

    I have been in steady therapy now for about 2 years and that's exactly what my therapist keeps telling me.  I really hope there comes a day when it all comes together in my head and something positive just clicks into place.  I have about the same self-image you talked about having when you were sick and in the world, I get half good messages from...

    RHMLucky777

    Read More

    I have been in steady therapy now for about 2 years and that's exactly what my therapist keeps telling me.  I really hope there comes a day when it all comes together in my head and something positive just clicks into place.  I have about the same self-image you talked about having when you were sick and in the world, I get half good messages from people and half not so good.  Maybe one day I'll be able to look in the mirror and not judge who I see so harshly.  Thanks for the hope.Smile

    • John Folk-Williams
      Sep. 12, 2009

      Thanks so much, Tinymight -

       

      I'm glad your therapist takes the initiative to be positive - even though it's risky with someone who has a hard time hearing that sort of thing. So many just hang back and listen or try to come up with something to do right away to raise your mood level without looking beyond that.

       

      I wish you all speed in getting to...

      RHMLucky777

      Read More

      Thanks so much, Tinymight -

       

      I'm glad your therapist takes the initiative to be positive - even though it's risky with someone who has a hard time hearing that sort of thing. So many just hang back and listen or try to come up with something to do right away to raise your mood level without looking beyond that.

       

      I wish you all speed in getting to the place where you can look into that mirror and think - I'm a good person having a bad day - that's all.

       

      John

       

       

  • Judy
    Sep. 10, 2009

    Thank you, John, for this beautiful piece of writing.  I think most, if not all, people with depression have felt ugly on many levels and the sadness of it all is that when we feel like that, we almost try to make it worse and look for confirmation of it everywhere.  For me, when someone has told me something positive about myself, what makes me want...

    RHMLucky777

    Read More

    Thank you, John, for this beautiful piece of writing.  I think most, if not all, people with depression have felt ugly on many levels and the sadness of it all is that when we feel like that, we almost try to make it worse and look for confirmation of it everywhere.  For me, when someone has told me something positive about myself, what makes me want to cry is that it seems so distant from what I think of myself that it almost makes me feel unreal, that I've lost myself.  And yet, while part of me is putting up this shield so it doesn't get in, another part is dying for this, silently screaming, "Yes, yes, I need this so badly but I really don't deserve it."  Well, I think we all need it very badly and I think that even just acknowledging the beauty in someone else's soul, we in some way acknowledge our own, if that makes sense.  Now, I hope I remember what I just said the next time I'm having an "ugly" day!

    • John Folk-Williams
      Sep. 12, 2009

      Thanks, Judy -

       

      That's a great point about looking everywhere for confirmation to deepen the inner belief that you're terrible. The idea of not deserving anything is also so strong - I did a post on that for Storied Mind quite a while ago. What could a worthless person possibly deserve?

       

      You're so right about the double response - putting up a shield...

      RHMLucky777

      Read More

      Thanks, Judy -

       

      That's a great point about looking everywhere for confirmation to deepen the inner belief that you're terrible. The idea of not deserving anything is also so strong - I did a post on that for Storied Mind quite a while ago. What could a worthless person possibly deserve?

       

      You're so right about the double response - putting up a shield to keep out the loving words but inwardly longing to receive love - For me, I guess I couldn't imagine being worth anyone's love, so I lived as if it simply wasn't there. Fortunately, my wife doesn't put up with that kind of thing for long, so I kept getting reminders that my withdrawal was a cause of great pain.

       

      Thanks for your really thoughtful comment.

       

      John

    • Anonymous
      Kenya
      Mar. 16, 2011

      Sometimes I feel like Im be putting myself down example a little voice of the devil says you are ugly and not pretty at all. Sometimes I believe it but I look back at myself and say Im not really ugly.

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