Posted on 18 September 2016 by Michael Dahl

Feeling alone and weak in the presence of inspirational quotes.

I love the Nelson Mandela quote, “It always seems impossible until it is done.” It inspires me to work for seemingly impossible reaches of justice (e.g. ending homelessness and hunger). And it helps me keep up my confidence when others publicly label me an idealist as they reach for more “realistic” goals.

Regarding struggles with Anxiety, I just read a quote that went something like this: “Worrying doesn’t take away tomorrow’s troubles; it takes away today’s peace.“ It inspired a small “A-ha” moment that I suspect will grow as I play around with ways I can use it in my life.

Two inspirational statements, two props to help me as I move through the struggles of life.

However, I must admit more often than not, short inspirational statements annoy me. In fact, there are times when — if I am in the middle of a struggle with Anxiety or Depression — they make me feel alone and powerless.

The other day I was at a great event — the Red Lake Food Summit — where most of the large group gatherings took place within a technical college’s cafeteria.  Three or four large screen TVs affixed to the wall randomly flipped through great quotes about self-esteem and inspirational statements / memes. (I am assuming this programming was from the technical college, not the event I was at.)

Anyhow, on the first morning of the event I was feeling particularly anxious, anti-social and my mind was pin-balling depressive thoughts throughout my head. (To those I was sitting with, I’m assuming I looked normal … just quiet.) My eyes were glued to the screens:

“Make your life worth loving.”

“You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it.”

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

“Mistakes are proof that you are trying.”

“The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday.”

… and on … and on … and on

While some of these statements are actually pretty good, I can’t tell you how alone and incapable I felt as I read them and my brain was in no way going to accept them as truths right then.

Yes, I could have used the prop-like statements that work for me. But the bombardment of statements that so often feel like what some people say to you to try to make you — or themselves — feel better, just made me feel like my bullies, Anxiety and Depression, were digging me into a deepening hole of isolation and weakness.

Don’t get me wrong. One statement that annoys me, may be the exact statement that another person needs when they are in a low place. I am not out to censor which quotes / memes are worthy.

But I do want to ask people to be careful using your stash of inspirational statements to automatically bring someone struggling with a Depression or Anxiety or a self-esteem issue to a better place.

It may be okay to say, “Here’s what I think of when I am in a really bad place: …” But it is not okay to blurt out your gem-of-a-statement and expect someone struggling to proclaim: “Gee, I’ve never thought of things that way; let’s go get some ice cream to celebrate.”

First and foremost, someone struggling needs true empathy … not a glossy statement to cure everything. And while it’s quite possible that that empathy will help smooth the rough edges of what they are feeling, sometimes — many times — they will not reach the “everything’s okay” point you were trying to help bring them to.

Not sure how to conclude this post. I just know I shouldn’t end it with a pithy self-improvement meme.

Take care of yourself and those you love, dear readers.