Struggling with Self-Defeating Thoughts

Last Updated: 3 Nov 2020
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Throughout my life, I have told myself, “I can’t do this.” At the worst points, I believed myself. So, I’ve been working on replacing that negative mindset with the belief that “I can!” And it’s been a journey.

negative positive self-talk mindset goals overcoming challenges bipolar disorder

I recently reflected on something it seems like I struggle with all the time: self-talk. The way we talk to ourselves has a meaningful impact—on our attitude, mental health, and our ability to achieve stability with bipolar and to even follow our dreams. My own story shows the influence of negative thinking.

Telling Myself “I Can’t”

Sometimes I feel like I live in a world of “can’t.” And it goes back in my history. I can remember, during my college days, many years ago, my negative thinking had a significant impact, especially during those years. Consistently, I went about my daily life with the thought that college was too hard and I would never graduate.

The words “I can’t” went through my mind constantly. And I believed it. I even dropped out of college.

A Turning Point & Realizing “I Can”

Once I started chasing after two-year-olds and bundling kids up in the middle of an Iowa winter, my mindset changed to “I can.” By that point, I realized that I could graduate. Even if my path looked different from what I had anticipated initially.

I returned to college and managed to graduate two years later. This was after a total of 4.5 years of college (including my time spent in junior colleges)—and despite how hellish it was for me to try to memorize information and deal with all of the stress that comes with higher education and bipolar disorder.

Learning to Handle Stress & Transform My Mindset

Stress really sets off my bipolar symptoms. So how did I do it? How did I finally reach my goal of graduating?

Well, I had a few cheerleaders.

One in particular was a therapist who spent countless hours telling me I could get my degree. She put the “I can” thoughts in my head.

I was also blessed to have parents encouraging me along the way.

And from graduating college, I learned to overcome even more “I can’t” roadblocks.

Finding My Voice

Thirteen years ago, I decided to write my bipolar memoir Some Dreams Are Worth Keeping. It took me over six years of writing, as I personally relived my private pain and journey living with bipolar. There were so many “I can’t do this” moments. I lost track of how many!

I was very fortunate because I took a “How to Write a Memoir” class taught by an eighty-year-old man Bob. He encouraged me, along with his wife, my first editor, Rena. They kept telling me to keep at it and that I have talent. Many people have read the book, but what matters to me is that it’s bringing hope to many people and educating them at the same time.

Learning to Stand & Speak Up

Then came the decision to join Toastmaster’s International, which is a worldwide organization that helps people get over their fear of public speaking. The “I can’t” voice came through loud and clear as I took on this new journey.

The “I can’t” voice almost kept me from continuing with my six-year speaking journey. When I first began to speak, I wore long skirts, so people would not see my knees shake. It didn’t work, because nerves got the best of me and you could see my whole body quiver. So, I advanced to using notecards and even sat in a chair.

Then I began to stand with more confidence. And, from there, I began to go public about my bipolar journey in my community.

My “I can’t” quickly turned into “I can.” On January 16, 2021, I will be speaking at TEDxTenayaPaseo, a virtual event “Where Ideas Are Worth Spreading.” I will be sharing my bipolar journey.

When I look back over the years, I see that I have had so many “I can’t” moments that I’ve lost track. My upcoming speech is a 15-minute talk, and it has to be memorized. Having bipolar continues to make it so hard for me to memorize. I am blessed to have a really strong group of friends and mentors from my Toastmaster’s group, who have helped me craft the talk, encouraged me to practice it, and reminded me that it will be a big success.

Now I see that my mindset has changed to “I can,” for the most part. But sometimes I still catch myself thinking with that “I can’t” internal voice.

Supporting Others & Being a Cheerleader for Children

I am an assistant for special education students—kindergarteners, first-graders, and second-graders—and for them, I am a cheerleader all day:

  • I tell the kids they can do the work.
  • I tell them they can figure out answers if they try.
  • I tell them they can learn new things.
  • I even do special cheers for the kids to praise them.

If I told them they can’t, then they would believe it. So why do I sometimes tell myself that I can’t do something? Do you tell yourself that, too?

We are capable of more than we can imagine, if we have the “I can” voice in our heads instead of the “I can’t” one. We are on this planet for a purpose. Mastering positive self-talk can be a struggle, even years later. I am working on it, though. How about you?

About the author
Susan Johnson graduated from Drake University with a BA in sociology. She is the author of Some Dreams Are Worth Keeping: A Memoir of My Bipolar Journey. Since her diagnosis of bipolar I in 1995, Susie's true passion in life is to help break the stigma of mental illness and to bring hope to those who live with one. An accomplished inspirational speaker and guest blogger at bpHope Blog, Susie was the subject of a “This Is Me” Q&A in bp Magazine in 2018. Her writing also appears in the Catholic Exchange, the Kingdom Revelator, and Las Vegas Pet Scene Magazine. Susie co-leads a mental health group at her church and currently works with special education students as an instructional assistant for a school district in Nevada. She will be speaking at TEDxTenayaPaseo in January 2021. And she enjoys hiking, baking, traveling, practicing yoga, spending time with her Goddaughter, and taking trips to Cancun. Originally from Thousand Oaks, CA, Susie now makes her home in fabulous Las Vegas with her husband, Gary, and Siberian cat, Angel-Ann. Visit her website, and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
1 Comment
  1. I understand, people who don’t have bipolar, just think you are being negative.

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