Shannon's Story: How Negative Thoughts Can Bully You (And How I Found Help)

My eyes couldn’t focus on my computer screen as I sat at my desk at work. The words I tried to type blended together. My stomach was churning, nauseous as I heard the voices of the Mean Girls, the bullies who never left me alone, chatting behind my back.

“Nothing I did was any good,” one said.

“Everyone knew I was a fake, pretending I had any kind of talent,” the other replied.

They bantered back and forth, their voices drowning out my thoughts as I tried to work.

Ignoring them was impossible. If I told them to shut up, they would just talk louder, thriving off my irritation and attention. I felt trapped and paralyzed in my seat, unable to finish a simple task.

When I left work at the end of the day, feeling both crushed and unproductive, their voices followed me home too. They never left me alone. They were in my head, all the time, relentlessly taunting and heckling me.

The names of these bullies that lived with me, these Mean Girls? Anxiety and depression.

The Mean Girls

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For years I’d lived with this duo of bullies: anxiety and depression. Often, they left me alone for long stretches of time. But if I was tired, if I had a tough day, when things went wrong, when someone didn’t like me, they would see an opening and pounce.

They ganged up on me, chatting back and forth, their voices blending and strengthening each other.

The voice of Anxiety spoke with fear and uncertainty. She filled me with apprehension and worry. She often asked condescending questions, goading me into silence. Who did I think I was? Why would anyone care about me? How could I think my work was worth anything?

Depression spoke with a different tone, often answering Anxiety’s questions. She provided certainty by crushing all hope. She spoke in declarative statements with permanence and fatalism, using words like “never” and “always.” I would never be good enough. No one would ever care about me. I was always faking it.

Together, like a team, they would beat me down. If someone in my real life said anything with a tone of condescension or hint of malice, the Mean Girls took up the new words like a mantra. They would twist up the truth with a lie. They would repeat this new statement in a constant loop. They would repeat it in my own voice later, imitating the tone of condescension until it sounded like it came from me. The Mean Girls would even pretend to be my friends, “helping me.”

Like a set of bullies that traveled with me everywhere, I didn’t want these companions and couldn’t seem to rid myself of them.

Asking for Help with Mental Bullies

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We all have negative thoughts and times that we’re hard on ourselves. But it’s scary when those negative thoughts get louder, when they start to crowd out our healthy, positive thoughts. For me, personifying my anxiety and depression as voices outside of myself, as Mean Girls, was a turning point. It was one big step toward learning how to ask for help and find ways to manage the bullies living in me.

At one of my lowest points, I was living far from friends and family, managing difficult situations in my life and work. I was young and struggling, trying to figure out life. On the surface, I was happy and doing well. I tried to put on a good front. But at some point, I realized that my mind was full of these negative thought spirals. I felt miserable.

The Mean Girls had moved in slowly, quietly taking over before I noticed they had taken over my mind. When I felt the negative thought loops, I tried to ignore them, hoping they would just leave me alone. Some days, if I patiently waited and took care of myself, it worked. Sometimes a good night of sleep or spending time with a dear friend would be enough to scare off the Mean Girls.

As the Mean Girls kept coming back, I got more and more worn down until finally felt like I was falling apart. I had a slew of physical symptoms that scared me — loss of appetite, nausea, fatigue, inability to sleep, shaky jitters, eye twitches, headaches, unexplained crying —  and pushed me to reach out for help.

I made calls to my doctor, health insurance, a therapist, anyone I could think of that might be able to help. I finally realized that I couldn’t keep taking on these bullies by myself. I wished I had started looking for help earlier since everything, including finding help, felt harder while these merciless Mean Girls tried to destroy me.

One day, I wrote out a long list of the negative thoughts that looped through my mind endlessly, like a radio earworm I couldn’t escape. My list started getting longer and longer. Objectively, I could see the negative thoughts listed out on the page were false. They were all lies.

I shared the list with my therapist, who helped me to understand the “lies” that grew from moments in my past. She listened and helped me understand the out-of-context words someone said to me that my brain was now ruminating over.

With her help, I also started to “talk back” and learn how to reprogram my thought loops. She gave me words for what I was going through. Over time, months when I felt like there was no hope, the Mean Girls slowly started to back off. Their taunting questions and dismissive statements got quieter and less frequent. I started feeling like myself again, something so foreign that I’d forgotten what feeling “good” was even like. It was a long road to freedom.

When you’re dealing with malicious internal bullies, it is easy to fall into believing they’ll go away on their own, then lose total hope when they don’t. It takes courage to ask for help. It also takes courage to be honest with others and even ourselves. To share vulnerable stories about hurt, anxiety, or depression, even within the safety of therapy. To look for hope even when it feels invisible.

Looking back, I’ve grow so much through my awareness of these negative thought loops. I know what their voices sound like, how to respond, and to call for help before the Mean Girls beat me down.

Now I know, you don’t have to handle a Mean Girl on your own.

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