At the root of my on/off depression is a voice that spits poison when she speaks. A sort of alter ego who is, quite frankly, a complete bitch. She tells me I’m not good enough, I’m a waste of space, I don’t deserve good things, and at her worst, she tells me I’m not even worth staying alive. She is kept at bay by medication, personal therapy and, more recently, the therapeutic powers of gardening.
In my counselling training I’ve been learning Eric Berne’s theory of Transactional Analysis. ‘Snooze fest!’ you say? Well, I don’t blame you, but there’s a lot more to it than a boring name.
The theory says we are all made up of three parts, or ego states. These are the Parent, Adult and Child. The Parent is split into two further parts – the Critical Parent, and the Nurturing Parent. It’s the Critical Parent who’s been having me for breakfast, telling me horrible things about myself, and drowning out the kinder voice of the Nurturing Parent in the process. She is loud and persistent, relishing in the damage she causes.
My work in personal therapy has been all about bigging up the Nurturing Parent. She’s the voice that says, ‘Well done! You’re doing amazing!’ She’s still pretty quiet at present, and I reckon there are lots of us who need to hear more from this voice in our heads.
I’m fond of fantasy and fairytale. I like diving into fiction, swimming in the make believe. I like stories where good triumphs over evil, and we learn courage and hope and love along the way. Not surprisingly, then, I’ve long been a fan of the US TV series, ‘Once Upon a Time’. It’s a drama that features the fairytale characters we are all familiar with, but retelling their stories with more than several twists and changes.
If the idea of swashbuckling romance of the true love’s kiss variety doesn’t do it for you, you also get to see Robert Carlyle with a glittery face. What’s not to love? Seriously, I’d encourage you to give it a go – you might be surprised by the depth of character and plot.
Here’s an example.
There’s a character in the series who has split into two parts – ‘Regina’ – a warm, nurturing friend and mother – and the ‘Evil Queen’ – a bitter woman whose heart is black with hate and vengeance. There is a battle between them – Good and Evil fighting to the death with swords, magic and sharp one-liners. So far, so expected. Yet, what happened next prompted Eric Berne and his theory of Transactional Analysis to pop into my head (obviously what the producers were going for...).
When it looked like Regina was finally going to defeat the Evil Queen, she suddenly stopped, pulling her evil alter ego into a strong, tear-jerking hug.
Suddenly, I could see the Nurturing Parent and the Critical Parent coming to the end of a long, exhausting feud. Unexpectedly, it ended with surrender. I saw Regina accepting the Evil Queen as a valid part of herself, not someone to conquer.
I had a light bulb moment. My goal of waving goodbye to my depression wasn’t going to be met by eradicating the Critical Parent into oblivion. Rather, I needed to embrace her with the love of the Nurturing Parent, quieting the toxicity of her words and accepting her as a driving force in me.
Out of the blue, I imagined her no longer putting me down, but pushing me to do better. Not so much of a bitch, more of an admirable badass.
With my ego states in harmony, it is not so much of a struggle to see that I’m worth saving. And with that realisation, and in truly getting to know the pieces that make me, I’m also beginning to love myself.
This could be a happy ending after all. I am not just good and evil, neatly split into black and white. I am a culmination of these parts, because when they surrender to being of equal worth, they merge together, no longer fighting each other, but working together to fight for me.
Kate Eve Smith lives and works in Northumberland where she is studying for a Diploma in Psychotherapeutic Counselling. She spends much of her time exploring the county's wilderness and coastline, and on colder days puts pen to paper. You can follow Kate on Twitter