I feel like I’ve lost a lot of things to depression: time, energy, motivation. But none of these compares with the feeling that I lose myself and my identity when I’m depressed.
I’ve always been an over-achiever and a perfectionist. I would go above and beyond to help people. I rarely missed a day at my job. I was the responsible one and the one other people could count on. Except when I was depressed.
On the days when I was depressed, I could barely find enough motivation to take a shower. Achieving everyday things was difficult. Getting myself out the door to work felt almost impossible. Taking care of other people was almost out of the question because I could hardly take care of myself.
As the days of depression stretched on into weeks and months and years, it felt like I had lost the person I thought I was. I was the perfectionist, but now I couldn’t care about anything enough to worry whether it was perfect or not.
Who was I? How could depression change me so much? Would I ever be ‘myself’ again?
There was a lot of guilt attached to this feeling of losing my identity. For as long as I could, I pretended to others that nothing was different. I pretended to be the same person I always was because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I didn’t want to hurt the people I loved by showing them this new self. I still wanted to be the one they could count on.
Finally, I reached the point where I couldn’t pretend any longer. I was too lethargic, too hopeless, and just too tired to act like my old self. I didn’t know who the new me was or how people would react, but I couldn’t keep the mask in place any longer.
It was hard to talk about my real feelings. Depression isn’t pretty. Instead of telling people that everything was alright, I had to tell them that everything was about as far from alright as it could be. It was hard to watch their faces change as they tried to process these words coming from someone they thought was ‘fine’.
But opening up about my depression and letting other people see the real me was one of the best things I could have done. The burden of secrecy was gone, and I found that the people closest to me were willing to support me through my depression. They weren’t disappointed that I wasn’t the person I used to be. They just wanted to help me find my way back out of depression.
I wish I could say that all of this made my depression go away, but it didn’t. It’s better, but I still get depressed. It lasts for days usually and not months, so I’m thankful for that. The most important thing for me, though, is what I learned about my identity.
Depression takes a lot away from people and that includes a sense of self. I lost who I was through my depression and felt guilty for it. But it wasn’t my fault. Just like other diseases might take away someone’s ability to go on with life like they used to, depression takes away my ability to act like the person I’m used to being. My real self is still there, somewhere underneath my depressed self. Depression does not define who I am.
I also learned that I don’t have to hide my depression. I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not. When I allowed people to see what I was really feeling, I found that they loved and supported me anyway. I wish I had done that sooner.
If you know someone who is depressed, please realize that it is depression that has changed them. Support and love them even if they don’t seem like the person you used to know. They didn’t choose depression, and they need you to be there for them. Allow them to be themselves, whatever that means, and remind them that you still care.