Anxiety, Depression and Self Esteem

On the whole, anxiety and depression are best tackled with self care. Rest, moving away from the sources of distress, not being outside your comfort zone too much, good food, sleep, exercise… All the obvious things that contribute to good health are needed to bring a person back from mental difficulty. Some (many?) of us who suffer from anxiety and depression have terrible trouble taking proper care of ourselves.

The person with poor self esteem struggles to believe that they deserve basic, essential things. Getting the job done thus seems more important than being well. Being useful is more important than being well even if being useful in the short term may compromise your longer term viability. For me, for a long time, the idea of self-care was itself a panic trigger and if people suggested it, I’d get even more distressed. I think I’m not alone in this.

When poor self esteem underpins poor mental health, the odds are a person has internalised a lot of crap from other people. We do not come alone to the idea of being worthless, useless, and that we deserve to suffer. We may believe we’re lazy, making a fuss, a nuisance – because we’ve had prolonged exposure to people telling us these things. We believe that we aren’t really ill, that the problem is that we aren’t trying hard enough. If only we made more effort to be more positive, we’d be better people. Getting a person to believe the bullshit of positivity logic can be one of the cruellest ways of keeping a mentally distressed person trapped in cycles of ill health.

Getting out of this is not a solo project. I know this because I can look back on my own journey and see when things started to change. Wind the clock back seven or eight years and I did not see myself as a real person. I was a thing made of straw and only my usefulness mattered. If I struggled, I’d push harder, beating myself up – physically and emotionally – to keep moving. I’d name call and shame and ridicule to make myself keep going, keep working, keep doing all the things. Running on internalised hate, I’d use the energy of that to keep my broken self moving.

There have always been people happy to add to the inner hate pile, and then to humiliate me as someone who ‘just plays the victim’ on top of that. I have taken those words into every burnout with me. I’ve listened to well meaning people online telling me I needed to take better care of myself, and I’ve been afraid to do so. As though being kind to me would turn me into something even more horrible and unworthy than I’d already been told I was.

I’ve been able to change because my environment has changed. It has taken time. Support and kindness at home, for years, has had consequences. Good friends who treat me with warmth provide an antidote to the poison others have poured into my ears. Support from fellow travellers has helped create a context for looking differently at these things. I could not have done this alone.

It’s a thing about mental health that needs saying and saying again. Most of us do not fall apart on our own. We fall apart for reasons that are outside our heads. Trying to find a personal solution to this is often futile. If environments are sick, the people in them will become and remain sick. Where people exploit each other, treat each other as worthless, expendable, or mock visible suffering, things only get worse. Collective solutions are the only workable ones, and in treating each other better, and being kinder to each other we can overcome so much more. Individual positivity can’t heal much of what’s wrong. Collective determination to change things really can make a difference.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

28 responses to “Anxiety, Depression and Self Esteem

  • Craig Hallam

    As always, you make a lot of sense, Nimue. I hope I have the ability to follow down the path you’ve cut.

  • Craig Hallam

    Reblogged this on Down Days and commented:
    Hi everyone,

    Here’s a great post from Nimue Brown that I thought you’d all relate to.

    Thanks for reading

  • David

    Hi Nimue, interesting, what you said about not getting too far out of your comfort zone… I’m moving tow Wales tomorrow for six months at least.
    This is the reason I haven’t finished my book and sent it to you for a possible review. The last 6 weeks has been a mad adventure of exploration. Fingers crossed I’ll be settled in within a few weeks and can then finish book 1 and get on with book 2. I’ll keep you informed of my planned finish date, hoping for end of August and hope you will have time to read it then. Very best wishes, David.

  • John Davis

    Hi Nimue…I might have mentioned before on your blog that I work now as an independent funeral celebrant. I conducted a service this morning where the family had requested a modern hymn. I nearly choked on the words and my decision to part company with Christianity a while ago was re-affirmed. The hymn was all about just how unworthy we ALL are as people, we are no-hopers and can achieve nothing because of inherent sinfulness….not too long ago I still believed this. What do such words say to vulnerable people, they just re-inforce any low self-esteem that we might have. The message I hear these days from walking in the woids and along the beach is just how amazing we are! John /l\

  • Siobhan Johnson

    We need each other, as people. I’ve had a bit of an epiphany around the word. People, as a word, seems emotionally different than persons. Persons strikes me as a word that simply means ‘more than one person’ – i.e ‘person or persons unknown’. Whereas people means a group of persons – person who have a reason to be together. Sure, we often subdivide people into smaller groups – a family, a team, fans, societies, civilisations etc – but that’s when we mean a particular group of people. It seems to me that the difference between people and persons is one that we’re more used to with other animals. A flock of sheep is vastly different from some sheep. A gaggle of geese is a group of geese who know each other and work together, and you’re referring to the whole thing. Some geese just means there was more than one goose. It’s not needed to know the fancy term, someone will just as easily say or group or family of lions instead of a pride – but they mean a group of lions, not some lions. And I think when we say we need people, we need people – we need a family, and a group (a fun?) of friends, and a school of children when we grow up or at least a team of children in some other activity if we’re homeschooled, we need a team at work and not just ‘some’ coworkers and a boss. We need groups of people. We need community. We also need fraternity. We need something special that we can’t get from ‘some persons’. ‘Some persons’ is just more than one individual who all happen to just be in the same place at the same time. Humanity is better as a group than as more-than-one-person. Or maybe I’m overthinking and have had too much tea. Could be both. 😉

  • lornasmithers

    I’m slowly getting better at self-care and being aware of the limitations caused by anxiety and IBS, which are linked. For example I’m running a workshop tomorrow at a camp an hour’s drive away in a friend’s car (I don’t drive often and that alone is stressful) and the organiser had planned the timings so I’d be able to go on a walk to a sacred well site before running my workshop. Having had an episode of anxiety/IBS yesterday I’ve had to say I can’t make the walk on top of the stress of driving and running a workshop, particularly when it takes me away from the loos. Normally I’d feel guilty and be paranoid about her thinking I was making excuses because on some occasions I seem perfectly ok, but I’m just putting those thoughts out of my mind and focusing on the positive fact that I’m still making the effort to go and run the workshop as planned.

    • Nimue Brown

      It makes such a difference, when people understand these things and can work with them. I think the intermittent nature of many conditions causes this kind of anxiety for a lot of people. Just getting people who aren’t struggling to grasp the implications of the good days/bad days thing makes so much odds.

  • fahckmylife

    This is amazing. Toxic situations and thinking it’s all your fault.

  • the undomestic writer

    I am feeling depressed and the feelings that i am experiencing i have written over here

  • Polkadotblonde

    I agree, and I think for a lot of people it stems from childhood and adolescence. I will say that my trek with depression and anxiety was mostly self-induced, so once I learned how to take a step back from myself it helped tremendously.

  • aspoonfulofevie

    So insightful – I’ve just posted about something similar if you’d like to look!

  • aspoonfulofevie

    The link to my page?

  • Dear Hope

    Nimue, I completely agree with everything you’ve written here, especially this part: “We believe that we aren’t really ill, that the problem is that we aren’t trying hard enough. If only we made more effort to be more positive, we’d be better people.”

    I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life, and convincing myself that I’m not actually suffering from a mental illness, but rather faking it or blowing my emotions out of proportion, is something I still struggle with to this day. It’s a hard cycle to break, especially with outside sources constantly giving their opinions and emphasizing self-care; what’s hard to explain to people is that we understand the importance of self-care, but actually doing it is what’s hard!

    Right now, I’m the Editor-in-Chief for Dear Hope, a mental health advocacy site focused on creative work (like writing, photography, artwork, music, etc.) I think you would really enjoy some of the work we have up there! You can check it out here:

  • luthienthegreen

    Very good post. This is so true. People often think you’ll get better by magic, but really the situation needs to change before recovery can even begin. I’m glad you are on the road. If you have time do check out my post on speaking out about depression on Thank you for this post!

  • becauseysheblogs

    Totally agree, depression and anxiety, I feel people have more of a tendency to suffer with if self esteem isn’t an established feeling about oneself. While a lot of posts talk about self esteem being a product of depression or anxiety, I believe it is the root. Great post x

  • elizabethmaitreyi

    I agree with everything in this great post and would add the following from my years of working with clients : in addition to self care do one good deed often as you can. It is a sure fire way to lift your self-esteem and to coax you out of the meaninglessness that can accompany depression. Aim really really low and make it really really easy to achieve. A good deed does not have to be an endurance test. Smile at someone. Wave at a child in the street from your seat on the bus. Give up your seat to someone tired. Buy a homeless person a cup of coffee. Help someone struggling on steps with a buggy or a wheelchair. The opportunities are endless. Enjoy.

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