“To wish for the past to be different is just another form of self-hatred.”
In Simon Amstell’s Netflix special, Set Free, he drops this wisdom among graphic descriptions of sexual encounters and jokes about his strained relationship with his father.
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, I grabbed my phone, tapped open my notes app and wrote the quote down.
Amstell’s words caught me at just the right time. For the past few months, I have been in entrenched in a particularly severe bout of depression. For weeks, I have been struggling to get out of bed, eat, and work.
I find myself wishing for a clean slate, disliking myself so much that I just want to throw myself out like a rough draft and start over.
One of the roots of my depression is this self-hatred Amstell talks about, this feeling that I have “done life wrong,” that everything is lost, and that it is too late to be a person I like being. I have a lot of anger towards myself and often wish I could just close my eyes and be reborn.
And it’s not that I have fucked up that badly. I haven’t “ruined” my life by any stretch of the imagination. I screwed myself over by prioritizing the wrong things, yes but, I haven’t done anything that cannot be fixed.
And yet, my thoughts are a whirlwind of “would have could have should have’s”: I should have done this, should have found my passion, should have worked harder at that one thing, shouldn’t have dated him, should have said yes to that opportunity, could have chosen that one major, could have double-majored, and so on.
There’s a reason some therapists use the catchphrase “don’t should on yourself.”
I have been experiencing cognitive distortions like polarized (all or nothing) thinking and overgeneralization. I have started to believe that I have never been and never will be good at anything or able to contribute to the world.
I know that I shouldn’t dwell on the past, but it feels like the past shaped me, set me up to hate myself, that I did this to myself, and deserve to be depressed because I didn’t build a life I enjoy.
But what will truly define my life is not who I have been in the past, but whether or not I have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. I have been stuck in a fixed mindset, and that is why I feel so doomed.
Getting into a growth mindset starts with doing the things I am scared of.
It starts with saying yes to things that align with what I want and no to things that don’t.
It starts with identifying what I can change and learning new things.
I have to stop telling myself that there are things I will “never” be before even trying.
My mistakes and false starts weren’t pointless, not completely. They are all lessons best learned early. I’ve got time to be someone new, and weave pieces of my past into the life I want.
My roommate and I were talking about tattoos recently. She said she doesn’t feel pressured to get something she will love “forever” because if she likes it now, that counts for something. Her opinion now is a part of who she is. It might change, but that’s just how life goes.
I think that is a perfect analogy for this idea of learning to stop wishing the past were different.
My past experiences were what I wanted and thought was right at the time. I was (and am) still growing. Do I need to let the past permanently define me? No. Nor do I need to spend a lifetime regretting it.
Self-love isn’t just about the here and now. It is about loving who you have been, who you are now, and who you are becoming.