Motivational quotes are, on the whole, great- I’m a big fan of them (in the right context). I have spent many a day as a teenager trawling through the likes of Tumblr and Pinterest looking through page after page of results under the hashtags ‘motivational’, ‘inspirational’, ‘girl boss’ (jokes on the latter, I don’t think that was a term then but, you get the gist, I hope). Lots, and I mean, LOTS, of my time was spent searching for quotes that ‘spoke to me’, lots of words being crammed into already quote filled notebooks…
Somewhere along the way though, when I began to struggle with my mental health, what I got out of quotes changed. No longer a source of motivation/something to aspire to, they became a source of anxiety/something to spiral to.
Quotes disguised as being motivational but which were really just encouraging me to adopt a scarcity mentality e.g., ‘NO PAIN NO GAIN’, ‘A MOMENT ON THE LIPS A LIFETIME ON THE HIPS’, (in caps to emphasise their #motivationalpull), largely replaced the more traditional ‘cheesy’ quotes I used to read, e.g., ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’ and, of course the good old; ‘live laugh love’ thrown in there for good measure… Even the more ‘traditional’ quotes that I used to turn to for motivation took on a different feel when I was ill. Seemingly everything became a source of me feeling somehow ‘wrong’, ‘bad’, ‘substandard’, ‘not enough’, for an indiscernible reason…
‘DO MORE OF WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY’
To focus on one quote in particular to add more context to what I’m writing;
‘Do more of what makes you happy.’
A well meaning phrase, it is often used to motivate people to make positive changes in their lives. Well meaning but, for people who are experiencing depression, a potentially damaging phrase…
Talking (well, writing) from personal experience, I know that when you are in the depths of depression, it can be incredibly difficult, seemingly impossible, even, to do the things which you love. In fact, at my lowest, I didn’t even have the head space to recognise that I had the capacity to love anything, for, I was so entrenched in feeling…
You see, depression sucked all the joy out of my life, leaving my head, heart, my whole being, empty
All of the things I used to enjoy, I didn’t want to do them anymore.
Everything felt like so much effort, a chore.
Knowing that feeling a lack of purpose/’unproductive’ is a big trigger for me- for my eating disorder and just general feelings of anxiety and depression, I continued to do all of the things that I had always done, the things that, rationally, I knew that I used to love, like hiking, and writing. Did I really want to do them? No. Were they in fact the last things that I wanted to do? Yes. But, to prevent myself from being pulled even further into the literal hell hole that is depression, I refused to sit around feeling sorry for myself (it was very tempting at times, believe me). I just did not allow that to be an option…
I don’t want you to be mistaken here though, I wasn’t skipping through daisy fields singing Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a Wonderful World’ on my Saturday morning hikes, stopping to write poems expressing my gratitude for life. In fact, if anything, doing the things that I used to love, and realising that, in doing them I still felt absolutely nothing, it actually made me feel even worse about myself and my life. It made me question how I could possibly ever feel happy again.
‘Do more of what you love’, they said. ‘It will make you feel better’, they said…
Yeah, it didn’t…
Upon reflecting back on this time, a time when I was very much ‘going through it’ with depression, I can recognise that, whilst yes, quotes can act as a great source of motivation for the general population, for your neighbour who might be feeling a little bit burnt out at work, for example, for people with a mental illness such as depression (note the word illness here. Depression isn’t just feeling a little bit sad because it’s raining so you’ve had to cancel your plans. Depression is an illness, like any other, which requires specialist treatment), looking at quotes as a way to make you feel happy, it just will not work. And, if you’re forwarding quotes onto a friend who is depressed to try to make them feel better, no matter how well meaning, this probably isn’t the most helpful thing you could be doing…
MOTIVATIONAL QUOTES WILL NOT CURE YOU
To tell someone with depression to ‘do more of what makes you happy’, with the expectation that this will cure them from their depression, would be like telling someone with cancer to ‘do more of what makes you not have cancer….’ It quite clearly does not work like that and, depression is no exception to this. Both are illnesses, both require specialist medical intervention, both, no matter how many motivational quotes you read, will not magically make you feel ‘better’ and both, in thinking that they will [magically make you feel better] might just end up making you feel worse… Why? Because, in thinking that reading motivational quotes will ‘cure’ you from depression, only to, quite quickly realise that… ‘yeah, it just won’t’... well, that’s actually very unmotivating, which is pretty counter intuitive, if you ask me. It can act as a further source of anxiety, making you feel like there must be something ‘wrong’ with you because; ‘nothing is working.’
When depression is characterised by the absence of happiness or, in many cases, the absence of any feelings at all-
just pure emptiness,
‘Do more of what makes you happy’ loses any and all motivational meaning. Because, when nothing makes you happy anymore, what is there to do??
Now, this isn’t to say that you should never read another motivational quote again if you are diagnosed with an illness, but it’s just to say that you should be aware that it won’t ‘cure’ anything. And, likewise, this isn’t to say that you should never gift an ill friend a book of motivational quotes, just READ THE ROOM. You can usually tell where someone is at in terms of their headspace, and whether they would be grateful for something like a quote book. If someone’s just lost their child, for example, sending them the quote ‘everything happens for a reason’ might not be the most well received thing you could send them right now. Regardless of how well meaning your intentions for doing so are, it might come across as though you’re lacking empathy/understanding. You might be perceived as trivialising the problem.
TO QUOTE OR NOT TO QUOTE…?
So, to conclude… To quote or not to quote? How do you work it out? Well, I would suggest that you…
- Read the room,
- Stay empathetic,
Do more of what makes you happy.