I recently plowed through Amy Poehler’s autobiography, Yes, Please, something that I’m almost embarrassed to admit considering the book has been sitting on my bedside table for about a year and I only JUST got around to reading it now. Chalk it up to the fact that my year of reading in 2015 was pitifully pathetic and just…not productive in any way, shape or form. Anyway, it’s not that I wasn’t interested — I mean, I ADORE Amy Poehler. She’s one of my favorite people, and Parks & Recreation is one of my favorite shows ever. Plus, hell yes to being neighbors by default! (She grew up in the next town over, which made reading her book super fun, because she not only worked at restaurants I frequented as a kid but there were also a lot of in jokes I was able to appreciate. Ah, Massachusetts.)
Among the cheeky references and amusing anecdotes, there was a chapter early on where she talked about dealing with her “demon voice” — you know, the degrading, nagging thing that comes along somewhere in your teens and then stays with you for most of your life. It goes away after a bit, after you’ve gotten through the high school adolescence period of, “I’m not popular enough” and “I’m not pretty enough,” and it sits in the closet or gets put on a shelf and gathers dust. You kind of forget it’s there when things start to straighten out and when you get more confidence. But it never really goes away. It always comes back, reminding you that you’re not successful enough, that you’re not good enough, that you’re not worthy enough, that you’re not smart enough. The list goes on.
I’m dealing with a lot of different things right now that my “demon voice” is currently having a blast with. (No, really. I’m pretty sure it’s having a full-on party, complete with the kegs and the raves.) My demon voice is telling me I made the wrong choice with my job. (“Go back to your safe, nice field! Even though that’s not really what you wanted to do and you had no promotion opportunities!”) My demon voice is telling me I made the wrong choice with choosing my boyfriend. (“Maybe when you went with first instincts, you should have worried more about his job and his motivation!”) My demon voice is telling me if I hadn’t fucked up my priorities 6-7 years ago, I wouldn’t be having these problems to begin with. (“Look at all that money you wasted! Look at all those decisions you made because you let other people influence you! You’re responsible for all your depression now when you wish you had things you don’t anymore!”)
According to Amy Poehler, you’re supposed to tell your demon voice things like HEY. DON’T SAY THAT TO ME. WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? You’re supposed to push back at it and let it not control you. You’re supposed to give it a face like this:
I wish I could do that because the problem that I have, and the problem that I’ve always had, is that once I get pulled into the spiral of self-doubt and depression, I find it very easy to let the demon voice stomp all over me. I can’t feel optimistic and I can’t push back, because all I can do is focus on the shitty things that I’m being told, and then I start to look at everything in my life through that lens. It leads to anxiety and even more depression. It’s kind of like yelling EXPECTO PATRONUM! at a Dementor, when you WANT to yell but all you do instead of freeze up and let it suck the life out of you.
It’s really, really annoying.
My therapist and I have spent a good amount of time talking out my regrets and worries, and each conversation is a small step towards making me more accepting of the good things I have in my life. One of the biggest things we’ve talked about has been trying to pinpoint what the cause of my demon voice is. Get to the heart of the matter, that’s how you kill it, right? (Hey, it works for vampires.) And it makes me think, because I really don’t know where my demon voice came from in particular. I’d always been an introverted, shy child, but where did this absolute “you are worthless” sense and lack of confidence come from? When did I get to the point where I can’t even enjoy the things that make me happy because there’s a constant comparison of how I’m just not worth anything? I didn’t have a terrible childhood, by any means. I grew up in a supportive privileged household with strong family values. I attended a high school that was competitive and focused on academic success, and although I wasn’t the smartest person in the room, I did more than okay. With a few exceptions, I was never really bullied. My mom pushed me hard, and sometimes too much, but never with any negative connotations. I was always told I had talent — in writing, in ice skating, in theater — although I didn’t always get everything I wanted or win every award, I was never told that I was terrible at anything.
And maybe that’s it. I’m a perfectionist by nature, and I always have been, no matter what the situation is. Maybe I was just always close to being “perfect” but the fact that I could never quite get there built up over time, and gave that demon voice a bigger presence. It’s something that’s inherent in all of us, unless you’re just really good at pushing your feelings aside — you have a good job, but someone your age has something better. You have a good relationship, but someone out there is in a relationship that has something a little more perfect than you, that you can’t quite achieve. You have a good life, but there are things about it that aren’t quite perfect. You have a good piece of writing, but there’s someone out there that gets better reception.
I’m not writing this blog post to say that I found a way to cure myself of this demon voice. Or that by just realizing what it is and what it maybe comes from has solved everything. Or that it goes away and never comes back if you just wait long enough. Or that I used to be more affected by it, but now I’m totally fine. (As evidenced by last night’s breakdown. Yes, demon voices can make you cry, too.) But I’m working on it. And whether it’s by talking to friends, or taking meds, or writing it out, or talking to my therapist, I like to think there’s hope it’ll get better. As my favorite FBI agent likes to say, I want to believe.